By Manuel Nau, Managing & Editorial Director at IoT Business News.
Last week the LoRaWAN World Expo (LWE) took place in Paris (Palais des Congrès, 6 and 7th of July). After several postponements due to the pandemic crisis, this 2022 edition was highly anticipated by the LoRa Alliance members as well as by all the IoT solutions developers interested in LoRa technology. The event delivered on its objectives and promises with more than 1,100 attendees, a rich content of conferences and workshops, and an exhibition space with more than 70 companies demonstrating their LoRa-based products. The LoRaWAN ecosystem is doing well and it shows!
After an inspired keynote by Donna Moore (CEO of the LoRa Alliance) associating LoRaWAN to Maslow’s pyramid and to some fundamental elements of life (air, water, earth, fire…), the conferences followed one another with as a more or less obvious thread the necessity and the opportunity to use LoRaWAN to build a more sustainable and frugal world. Alistair Fulton’s* speech was very eloquent in this respect, with a title and content that sums up one of the ambitions of the technology: “Decarbonizing the world using LoRaWAN, one sensor at a time”.
Among the wide range of topics discussed over the two days, we will also note the presentations on the combination of satellite with LoRa, a coupling that allows the use of LoRa-enabled sensors in applications requiring global coverage.
The LoRaWAN World Expo was of course also the occasion for numerous meetings. Representatives and members of the LoRa Alliance from all over the world came to present their latest innovations. On this occasion, we had the opportunity to interview Marc Pegulu, VP IoT Strategy & Product Marketing for the Wireless and Sensing Products Group at Semtech, about the latest commercial and technical developments for LoRa.
IoT Business News: What percentage of Semtech’s total business does IoT represent and what are the most promising applications in terms of volume?
Marc Pegulu: Semtech has a portfolio of semiconductor products spanning automotive, broadcast equipment, data centres, passive optical networks (PON), industrial, Internet of Things (IoT), LCD TVs, smartphones, tablets, consumer wearables and wireless infrastructure applications.
Of these, our wireless solutions for the IoT account for about a third of the overall business. But it is undoubtedly the fastest growing sector at Semtech.
In terms of high growth markets, we believe that logistics-related applications (including supply chain management) are going to see a tremendous boost from LPWAN and use of the LoRaWAN standard in particular. There is tremendous value in remotely tracking the status of moving goods (temperature, shock, etc.) at lower energy and material costs.
How do public mobile operators (MNOs) view LoRaWAN now that LTE-M and NB-IoT alternatives are available?
Operators are in many cases opting for a dual approach. Many use cases require a low-cost, low-power technology like LoRaWAN. LTE-M and NB-IoT technologies are not relevant and competitive for a number of long range, low power, indoor/outdoor IoT applications. In any case, operators should focus on services rather than technologies.
LoRaWAN/satellite coupling is one of the many topics discussed at the LoRaWAN World Expo conference. How does this hybrid solution work?
Until now, IoT deployments have often been associated with the presence of terrestrial populations. But the globalisation of the flow of goods and commodities often requires network coverage in areas far away from population centres.
The hybrid LoRaWAN/satellite technology developed by Semtech allows battery-powered sensors to be connected directly to the satellite, without the need for a gateway (a device that requires a permanent power source). This innovation facilitates the deployment of LoRa-enabled sensors in any geographical environment.
New satellite services from companies such as EchoStar, for example, provide a permanent link through their geostationary constellations. There are also other compatible constellations in low earth orbit, which provide an intermittent connection (dependent on satellite transit cycles).
When using satellite-compatible LoRa-enabled sensors, the trade-off between terrestrial and satellite transmission can be made at the application level. A major integration effort has been made by Semtech’s teams to offer more or less equivalent energy consumption whatever the type of link. However, unlike the terrestrial link, the satellite link offers only one speed. We believe in the potential of this solution. Several pilot applications are already underway.
For asset tracking applications, Semtech has developed a geolocation solution called LoRa Edge. Can you tell us more about it?
Semtech’s LoRa Edge geolocation platform is based on a chip that decodes GNSS satellite signals as well as signals from Wi-Fi terminals (whose locations are available in various databases). This information is then sent to a server which calculates the location of the object with an average accuracy of 10-20m in a semi-urban environment. This accuracy is sufficient to verify that an object is on site. There is always an interest in locating an object/sensor at least once, even with a medium accuracy.
This technology, called LR-FHSS (Long Range Frequency Hoping Spread Spectrum), allows geolocation while maintaining a very low power consumption level at the sensor: the integrated chip has a limited computing power as it only needs to decode the Wi-Fi and GNSS signals. All calculations are deported to the server. And the response time of the cloud is less than 1s. Finally, the business model is based on a per-request billing system, which makes it possible to ensure the presence of an object in its deployment or transit zone at a very low cost.
Can you share with our readers some elements of Semtech’s LoRa roadmap?
We are currently working on a dual-band satellite + LoRa 2.4 GHz solution.
LoRa technology in the 2.4GHz band will offer global coverage, higher data rates and lower latency. On the other hand, the 2.4GHz band influences the transmission distance and therefore induces more constraints on the infrastructure (on its density). This evolution will be a clear advantage for much faster local site collection points. LoRa in 2.4GHz will be ideal for maritime transport and the tracking of cargo and containers.
Another area of development we are working on is improving geolocation (especially indoor) at the component and server level.
Do you have any particular concerns about the security of all these connected objects?
For LoRaWAN, it is the LoRa Alliance that defines the security mechanisms. The data is encrypted and the transmission pipe is secure. The management of the security keys is the responsibility of the customer. Each device has a unique key. Therefore, in the event that one device is compromised it does not mean that all devices are at risk.
A key can be changed remotely. It is also possible to disconnect a device and update it remotely. All these mechanisms ensure a certain robustness to the systems deployed.
More generally, it is customers who determine the level of security that they wish to put in place. And they may decide to supplement the built-in security mechanisms with additional dedicated security components.
Are there any plans to integrate LoRa technology into the consumer world (into smartphones for example)?
Semtech is already present in consumer markets such as telephony with a proximity sensor platform, called PerSe (personal sensing), used to optimise transmission power and respect the SAR (Specific Absorption Rate) levels allowed. We are therefore already in contact with smartphone and wearable manufacturers.
LoRa technology is present in the Amazon Sidewalk solution for smart homes. Sidewalk will be integrated into Amazon Echo devices and will enable many consumer IoT applications such as intrusion detection or water leakage detection for example.
The deployment of LoRa infrastructures such as Amazon Sidewalk and Helium will increase LoRa network coverage and facilitate consumer applications.
In the meantime, the technology is already deployed in a number of localised consumer applications. I am thinking in particular of an original solution developed by a leader in pest treatment products. It is a system using LoRa-enabled sensors designed for the early detection of termites in residential areas.
There are many possible applications and the networks, both private and public, are growing, so we are convinced that LoRa technology will eventually take its place in the consumer world.
* Alistair Fulton is General Manager & Senior Vice President, Wireless and Sensing Products Group at Semtech