Embracing the old

I’m worried about myself. I thought my radio interest was super-solid, small, rebellious networks you run yourself. But when I listen to myself nowadays, I sound more and more like an employee at the state-owned Swedish Telecommunications Administration (Televerket).

I wI work a lot with connecting things, in the old days we called them connected machines, and we built private communication networks for them. Now machines have been relegated to being called things; things that need the internet – things that need clouds.

And because things are so smart today, they are things that are changing the world in many different ways. In discussions lately, I’m often met with a strong opinion around connectivity.

A loA lot of people say “we should run NB-IoT” or “we should run LoRa” and “we should run SIGFOX”. Looking at where I originally came into the industry from, via RF, private radio networks, I should of course embrace the LoRa requests with open arms and hug anyone remotely who says SIGFOX.

The televerket guy awakens

The opposite happens, I start to pull my ears back and try to approach them with the question, is LoRa really what you need? The old man from Televerket wakes up inside me. From my horizon, wireless technology should be three things above all else. Accessible, secure and scalable.

The vast majority of technologies today have a check in the box secure. But when availability and scalability come into play, I am embracing the public networks run by operators. To me, LoRa is okay for small-scale sensor data, unless it’s time-critical or mission-critical. But I still feel sceptical about the technology when scalability and availability come up.

Unregulated is not a guarantee

They are running on unregulated bands, so here I start preaching operators’ NB-IoT and LTE CAT-M1 solutions instead. For me, the problems with LoRa and SIGFOX are a couple. They don’t have nearly the same infrastructure in place as the operators. Many networks are run by a limited group of individuals who don’t have the same protocols in place to ensure the operation of the network as an operator.

The technology uses free frequency bands over large areas. This is not a scalable model. The more people that are added to the spectrum, the more crowded it gets until it is full. Then there is no plan B.

Imagine, all LoRa gateways will receive all messages sent on the 868 MHz bands and listen to if it is a LoRA data package, if it is, such a device it will wonder if the data belongs to them or not. In the meantime, the frequency is blocked from reception.

Since all LoRa devices run in the same frequency band, no sensor can establish contact with a gateway while this is going on. Many devices in the same area mean that they have to retransmit or data is dropped. If you have an application with regulatory requirements for availability, refresh rate or similar, you cannot guarantee that data will reach you. Because you have no control over the frequency. The bands are also shared with a range of other fun things you can import from China, including jammers that block the frequency. This is where I find the defence to my own telecom beliefs because I come from a different RF background, where scalability and availability are key ingredients. Where the delivery of data is more important than the use of a particular technology.

Who are you fooling?

A SIM today from the operators doesn’t cost much more than what it costs to use public LoRa networks or to build your own infrastructure. But the difference is that someone is making sure the networks are up and running, licensed frequency bands are being used and operators are guaranteeing and promising access for at least the entire 5G decade.

So if like me, you believe in embracing the core values of IoT, scalability and availability, then you’ll understand. For me, these are more important aspects than building compromises. Free frequencies in all their glory, but when you have to be sure that data gets through, the Televerket person in me wakes up.