Orange is to deploy a low power wide area network (LPWAN) across metropolitan France using LoRa (Long Range) narrowband technology. The network, which will be used for M2M/IoT applications requiring low power, low cost, low data rates, will be implemented in parallel to the operator’s existing cellular infrastructure.
The move is quite a fillip for the LoRo Alliance’s technology, which has been largely developed and promoted by California-based Semtech Corporation. It is one of a growing number of proprietary, or semi-proprietary LPWAN systems coming to market.
These LPWAN solutions mostly use ultra narrowband or narrowband technology in unlicensed spectrum, as opposed to existing M2M bearers – generally GSM 2G, 3G and 4G, although LoRa spreads the signal widely across frequencies. Others start ups in the space include France’s Sigfox and US-based Ingenu (formerly OnRamp Wireless). The UK-originated Weightless SIG is another, although this is a fully open standard.
These solutions either have to raise cash to build networks themselves (as both Sigfox and Ingenu are doing) or have to hope that a major player takes up their technology. Orange’s backing for LoRa is therefore a major boost for the technology, as it now has the endorsement of a well established operator. Middle Eastern operator du is also using LoRa technology and showcased its network this month in the UAE.
Orange said that IoT is a key focus in its Essentials2020 strategy, which plans to generate €600 million in revenue by 2018. The operator added that it has been machine-to-machine (M2M) communications via its 2G/3G/4G networks for nearly a decade, but is now broadening its connectivity offer and preparing for the future of the IoT.
It argues that LoRa technology is especially useful for connecting sensors in Smart Cities environment. Orange is also continuing the work on the standardisation of future cell networks for the 2G (EC-GSM extended coverage GSM) standard and 4G (Cat-0 LTE and PSM - Power Saving Mode) for the IoT, which will be operational in 2017 and for 5G by 2022.
Stéphane Richard, CEO, Orange, said: "As a part of our new strategic plan Essentials2020, Orange has an ambition to become the number one operator for the Internet of Things. To answer all the needs, we decided, as a supplement to the cellular networks, to deploy a national network dedicated to objects that need narrow-band connectivity, and also to low energy consumption. This network, based on the technology LoRa, will gradually open from the first quarter of 2016.
The LoRa network will be operational from the first quarter of 2016 and progressively deployed nationwide. It will be used to transport communications from objects' for Orange, its mass market and business customers. Orange has tested the LoRa technology by carrying out a large scale trial in Grenoble, involving more than 30 partners.
The objects have different connection requirements, which depend on the speeds, criticality and frequency of the information communicated. In order to ensure the development of these uses, Orange has chosen to invest in a range of solutions, to become an operator of the IoT, whatever the objects' needs and whatever the technology used.
Beyond connectivity, Orange will also supply its mass market and business customers with services and platforms that are compatible and interoperable with these different networks dedicated to connected objects.
The LoRa Alliance was formed in January this year as an ‘open, non-profit association of members’ with the aim of producing a standard for low power wide area networks for M2M/IoT. It has attracted mobile operator support including sponsor members Bouygues and KPN, with Korea’s SK Telecom and Swisscom as contributor members. Cisco and IBM are also members.
In June, it released the LoRaWAN R1.0 specification. The architecture employs a star-of-star topology in which the gateways are a transparent bridge relaying messages between end-devices and a central network server. Gateways are connected to the network server via standard IP connections, while end-devices use single-hop wireless communications to one or many gateways.
LoRa has developed three classes of end-point devices: bi-directional with two, short downlink receiver windows; bi-directional with scheduled receive slots; and bi-directional with maximal receive slots (nearly continuously open).
Communication between end-devices and gateways is distributed via different frequency channels and data rates. The selection of channel and data rate is a trade-off between communication range and message payload. LoRaWAN data rates range from 0.3kbps to 50kbps. To conserve battery life the LoRaWAN network server manages the data rate for each connected sensor via an adaptive data rate algorithm.
The LoRa modulation format is based on Chirp Spread Spectrum (CSS) widely used in radar and ranging applications, but not commonly deployed in communication systems. One of the reasons for this is its inability to operate reliably in the presence of interference. CCS spreads the signal information over a wide bandwidth, but it is subject to interference by other systems operating in the same bandwidth.