Data Exchange Standards: Wireless Wars

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Data Exchange Standards: Wireless Wars

IoT is all about connecting things and enabling them to communicate, but communication is only possible when standards exist for the exchange. Currently, several systems are fighting for supremacy. Can we expect a common language for IoT?Data Exchange Standards

by Rainer Claassen

To enable verbal communication on a more than basic level, a common language is needed. Even if there is one, the chances of misunderstandings are very high. It’s no different in technology. It has become rather simple and inexpensive to enable all kinds of “things” to communicate but there has to be an infrastructure that is able to “hear” them, to under-stand what they are saying, and to transfer the important results to the places they are required – and to talk back when action is necessary.

With LoRaWAN, entire cities or countries can be covered with a few base stations, no longer requiring the up-front rollout and maintenance of nodes as in traditional mesh networking.

Olivier Hersent, Chairman and CTO of solution provider Actility

Currently, many different standards are used in general IoT and industrial IoT applications, including home and building automation, and mobility services. The range of things that can be involved makes it clear that requirements vary vastly. For example, a sensor installed in a freight container should be able to communicate even in the remotest areas – but usually it will be sufficient if it reports its location only once a day. Conversely, for a sensor reporting the conditions of a machine in a factory there is no need for long-range connectivity – but a lot of data may be involved and the information will probably be time sensitive. Many other aspects have to be considered, such as expenses, scalability, reliability, energy consumption, life-span, the possibility of updates, and, of course, data security.Data Exchange Standards

LPWAN – One Name Many standards

The technology most commonly used to connect IoT devices wirelessly is known as LPWAN (low-power, wide-area network). The name is self-explanatory – but it is not a standard. The two most well-known names under which LPWAN technology is marketed are Sigfox and LoRa. Lately, Mioty, a German development from Fraunhofer, has gained importance, while other players, like Weightless and Ingenu, so far have not fulfilled the hopes invested in them.

The vast majority of IoT applications are viable on currently avail-able technology. implement it correctly and you’ll be ready to transition to 5G once its coverage is more ubiquitous and hardware is more affordable.
Mirko Benetti and John Candish, SAP Digital Interconnect


To use the license-free LPWAN net-works, new dedicated wireless infrastructure has to be built. As the frequencies that are used are shared, the risk of interference, from Wi-Fi, for example, is rather high. And in many areas, including the EU, there are regulations governing its usage. Also, the maximum amount of data that can be transmitted for upload and download is limited.
On the positive side, LPWAN ecosystems are quite accessible. Organizations may build their own, customized infrastructure in areas where there is a lack of coverage – or have one built by a contractor. Reliable coverage can also be achieved in remote areas or deep within buildings. All this is possible with small and cheap sensors that consume little power. Online statistics portal expects that the global number of LPWAN device will reach around 3.4 billion by 2021.The most important reasons for the success of LPWAN are:

  • Long geographical range: devices are designed for wireless data transport over distances in the range of kilometers
  • Nonconstant transport of small amounts of dataData Exchange Standards
  • Battery life of several years with little power consumption

Cellular Technology

LTE-M and Narrowband IoT (NB-IoT) are competing with LPWAN for the high ground. These two use the li-censed spectrum of cellular technology from existing telecommunication infrastructure, so the frequency bands are owned by the operators. This means there is low interference but the ecosystems are closed – you have to partner with one or more operators to make use of the cellular technology. The main advantages of LPWAN have caused traditional cellular operators to try to catch up. LTE-M is one response to the success of LPWAN, put forward by standards developer 3GPP (Third Generation Partnership Project). It is used as an addition to standard LTE connectivity while preserving resources. NB-IoT is also a 3GPP construct concurring with LPWAN technology but using a subset of the LTE standard to be used. In addition, NB-IoT’s building penetration is said to be superior to LTE-M. NB-IoT is well suited to static assets like smart meters while LTE-M has benefits in roaming applications such as transportation.US service providers tend to push LTE-M because they have invested heavily in LTE technology; the rest of the world is more likely to prefer NB-IoT since GSM is often the norm.

Data Exchange Standards

The Factory that Does It All by Itself: eGO Mobile in Aachen is the first manufacturer to integrate a Vodafone 5G-based infrastructure into automobile production. Materials are identified automatically after delivery via RFID interface and directed to the vehicles under production (source ©: Vodafone).

Traditional cellular options like 4G and LTE networks consume much power and they don’t fit well with applications where only a small amount of data is transmitted infrequently. This is where 5G will probably turn out to be a big game-changer.

5G Is arriving

The new cellular standard 5G is being deployed in an increasing number of countries. It is the first cellular network technology that was designed with IoT applications in mind. Advantages of 5G for consumers – like higher connection speeds and greater capacity – do not play an important role for most IoT cases. Compared to former standards, the power usage can be very low, correcting a disadvantage of current cellular IoT solutions. This can result in smaller batteries or longer battery life – very important for IoT and connected devices.5G has only started to roll out and it is still unlikely to be ready for many IoT use cases at the moment. Infrastructure, devices, and system integration are still under development. Mirko Benetti and John Candish, both executives at SAP Digital Interconnect, make a clear statement on the blog IoT For All: “The vast majority of IoT applications are viable on currently available technology. Implement it correctly and you’ll be ready to transition to 5G once its coverage is more ubiquitous and hardware is more affordable.”

Not Wars!

With the rapid growth of IoT, there is currently enough space for all these technologies. Although it is likely that 5G will revolutionize the market, this will probably be the result of a long skirmish than a short battle. While the different players will try initially to gain advantages over each other, we will see a time when anyone who can speak the “languages” of all the par-ties involved in this struggle will, ultimately, have the best chance to stand on the winner’s side.

Interview: Data Exchange Standards

Data Exchange Standards

Interview with Klaus Hoffmann, Key Account Manager at Sigfox, Germany

What are the goals of Sigfox?
We want to establish a globally unified wireless network – we have already deployed it in more than 70 countries, with priorities in Europe, Asia, and South America, so far.

Which projects demonstrate the potential of Sigfox technology the best?
Within six months, we have retrofitted all 250,000 DHL trolleys with trackers. The company can now track and trace all these containers in remote place around the globe. Another example is the tracking of large portions of the supply chain of the French automotive group PSA – but we are also active in the area of smart buildings.

How can companies that want to gain experience with tracking technology start deploying your technology?
It does not make much sense to get involved just because it’s possible. First, you must find out which problems – for example in the supply chain – really bother you and then develop a tracking solution. We work with partners who are experienced in different industries, who can offer a fitting solution at reasonable cost. Our so-called Bubble device, a beaconing solution offering indoor and outdoor geo-positioning with one to ten meter accuracy, is available for less than €5. A really basic entry may be made with an investment of less than €1,500 – but, in most cases, an individual solution will be necessary and the cost for this may vary strongly.

No Touch Needed:Sigfox has launched a proximity detection service via a device called the “Bubble” that allows users to detect the presence of nearby assets without any actual physical contact (source ©: Sigfox).

Do you expect the introduction of 5G to roll up the whole market?
5G will be an important supplement to the technologies that are currently in use. Its advantages lie in areas where large amounts of data have to be transferred in real time. The strength of our technology lies in a completely different area – and that is true for many other competitors as well. I don’t see a reason why the technologies should not coexist for a long time.

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