IoT Blog
IoT Blog
Only a few short years ago, the term Low Power Wide Area, or LPWA, did not exist. Today, LPWA wireless networking technologies have taken center stage in the Internet of Things (IoT) connectivity arena with their promise to deliver low power, low speed, and low cost with very high network coverage.

The technologies that are best positioned for LPWA longevity are the ones that will be standardized and will therefore be able to offer the greatest ecosystem support and interoperability.

As with any burgeoning market, not all of the LPWA supporting technologies will survive and thrive – at least not on a broad scale: some may become obsolete, others will serve niche markets with limited use cases. The technologies that are best positioned for LPWA longevity are the ones that will be standardized and will therefore be able to offer the greatest ecosystem support and interoperability. From this perspective, the 3GPP LTE-Machine Type Communications (LTE-MTC) LPWA technology stands out as a leader.

Big Picture Considerations for LPWA Technologies

With analysts predicting market growth of LPWA to take off in 2018, LTE-MTC, which is slated for commercial availability in the second half of 2017 (with multi-national network deployments in hundreds of countries), is well positioned among the contenders from a timing perspective. While it is true that proprietary LPWA technologies may have less work to do from a go-to-market perspective in the sense that they don’t have to do interoperability or certification testing, their ecosystem will be far more limited than the standardized technologies and will take more time to reach broad multi-vendor and worldwide availability.

Many proprietary LPWA technologies are primarily operating in unlicensed wireless band where quality service is difficult to guarantee. Additionally, some of these LPWA technologies support only very small message sizes (e.g. <20 bytes), which makes it virtually impossible to support standard internet protocols like TCP and UDP, or they only support one-way communications, reducing their viability for many applications. Taken together, one can’t help but wonder whether some of these technologies will be viable over the long term and what would happen to customers and vendors if they prove unsustainable and the networks shut down.

Market timing and solution readiness are, of course, only two of the many forces at play. Cost, power, and coverage are all key factors when it comes to predicting which technologies will have the greatest impact.

Because the complexities of all LPWA solutions are similar, costs are much more likely to be influenced by economies of scale. Standardized solutions with worldwide adoption that support a massive M2M ecosystem could make the technology much less expensive than other niche proprietary solutions.

The situation is comparable for battery life, which is more or less equal for all LPWA solutions. Battery life depends not only on hardware design and operating specifications, but also on coverage. Poor coverage means battery life will be bad. Since LTE-MTC is designed to be deployed as a software upgraded onto establish LTE cellular network infrastructure, LTE-MTC devices will be in “good coverage” more often, lowering power consumption and extending battery life compared to new “green field” LPWA deployments with less dense base stations. LTE-MTC has the advantage of a massive reuse opportunity for cellular network operators building on their existing network infrastructure.

There is little question as to whether standardization and strong ecosystem support carry less risk in the long term. In this regard, solutions like LTE-MTC stand to fare much better over the long haul than proprietary solutions. Ultimately, standardized solutions like LTE-MTC will best serve the industry and the IoT as a whole.