The Low-Power Wide-Area Network (LPWAN) spectrum does not require providers to have a telecommunications license. Being able to operate without a license significantly lowers the financial and logistical barrier to entry. It also opens the door to different approaches to provide Internet of Things (IoT) connectivity.
In their report, “Gigaom Radar for Global LPWAN Network Providers,” Logan Andrew Green and Chris Grundemann identify four types of IoT connectivity providers operating within the realm of unlicensed LPWAN network providers:
- Network Operators: These operate much like the classic mobile network operators. A Verizon or an AT&T installs, manages, and owns the core infrastructure and provides new gateways to expand coverage.
- Satellite-Based Connectivity: More providers are offering ubiquitous connectivity through satellite relays. These connect devices with satellites either directly or indirectly through lightweight, portable gateways. You can expect more of these types of providers in the future.
- Open, Community-Based Network: In this model, a central provider manages the network servers and third parties run the gateways providing the coverage. Building IoT solutions on these community-based networks are low or no cost and highly flexible.
- Decentralized, Blockchain-Based Network: Much like the Open Network model, a central provider maintains the infrastructure while third parties operate the gateways. By operating on a blockchain network, there are tamper-resistant shared transaction records, so enterprises can share and access IoT data without any centralized regulation.
One of the report’s authors Chris Grundemann says this type of low-power spectrum IoT communications technology is well-suited for small data transfers over long distances with minimal power consumption. It can connect organizations with numerous geographically diverse locations but only with low data capacity.
He further states that since LPWAN data transfers are somewhat limited in capacity, these types of communications work well for applications such as sensors and trackers. It would not be suitable for high bandwidth requirements like streaming video or guiding autonomous vehicles.
Table 1: Impact of Features on Metrics
For now, Grundemann and his co-author Logan Andrew Green recommend evaluating these providers through the following lens for the following deployment scenarios:
- For a simple proof-of-concept, take one of the community-based networks for a test drive. While somewhat limited in capacity, this would be a low-cost, low-risk way to validate the technology.
- If your organization has the in-house expertise to do so, try blockchain-based networks. These networks work best for non-critical operations with low data transfers.
- If you need full enterprise-grade connectivity, you should stick with the standard network operators that can ensure connectivity and technical support.
- If you only need to connect a few devices, you could try the IoT satellite providers for coverage virtually anywhere.
In the future, Grundemann says we can look for LPWAN to support edge computing and infrastructure sharing. But for now, it’s best suited for long-distance, low-capacity applications.