Bubbles and business cases – the path to ubiquitous global IoT connectivity

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Neil Hamilton, Thingstream VP Business Development explains why bubbles of connectivity such as those provided by WiFi, SigFox and LoRa aren't suitable for a large number of IoT use cases and how Thingstream's unique way of leveraging existing cellular infrastructure holds the key to global IoT connectivity.

Over the past year, I have met with countless companies who have either built a prototype device or are in the throes of designing a device for some kind of IoT-based asset tracking and/or condition monitoring.

Disparity - business need and technology capability

It amazes me when I learn that the radio component of these devices is LoRa, SigFox or an NB option. Knowing that the company they are being designed for is an international organisation, there is usually a mismatch between the business case and the technology being used at the conceptual stages which doesn’t bode well for when these projects move into production.

More often than not, I find myself explaining the options for connectivity decisions to prospects and partners in the context of bubbles – which usually helps a decision maker better understand the choices they have available to them when formulating their IoT strategy and business case.

It goes something like this:

Connectivity bubbles

In our homes, we normally connect all of our devices using a combination of technologies. This often starts with Bluetooth, which is usually tethered to something which in turn uses WiFi to connect to the internet. Domestic WiFi is usually covered by a single wireless access point, effectively creating a bubble of connectivity approx 50m in diameter over the home. In most cases, this setup is perfectly adequate.

WiFi is also suitable for most companies, however, WiFi isn’t going to cut it if the enterprise is looking to connect devices across a wider estate, such as a farm, mine or port. More importantly, the power requirement for WiFi is far too great for connecting sensor-based devices which are usually battery powered. These issues then lead the decision making process in the direction of Low Powered Wide Area Networks such as LoRa, SigFox and cellular-based LPWANs.

If your business case warrants your sensing devices to be in fixed positions across the estate then investing in building in a LoRa network could be an appropriate option, however, if you need some devices to be connected when they leave the estate (such as vehicles or cargo) then LoRa isn’t viable, given things can only connect when inside the LoRa bubble itself.

If the business case dictates that the location or condition of assets could be anywhere across a domestic market, then SigFox is a possibility, likewise for cellular-based technologies.

From a business owner's perspective, if you are considering SigFox, you have to consider whether you want your devices to operate within SigFox coverage areas only.  If there is a possibility that you need devices communicating information to your business systems from both urban and rural areas, it is critical to clarify where exactly the SigFox coverage is. In the countries where it is available, SigFox networks are often distributed across populated areas but less so in rural areas.

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