All about Wi-SUN, and the quiet buzz around the ‘world’s widest’ IoT network
Wi-SUN has been quietly succeeding in the smart utilities and smart cities markets as an alternative for low-power wide-area (LPWA) networking like LoRa and Sigfox.
The open ‘wireless smart utility network’ (Wi-SUN) mesh protocol is based on the IEEE 802.15.4g SUN standard, approved in March 2012. Its focus from the start has been to untangle the complex web of communications technologies that have grown up within smart grids, invariably around proprietary and systems and legacy equipment.
The Wi-SUN Alliance, which includes the likes of Cisco and Itron as ‘promoter’ members, is working to get a global set of manufacturers to agree on common IPv6 based specifications for communications gear in the smart grid. Original use cases included gas metering, demand/response systems, and distribution automation.
Its focus has since expanded to include broader based smart cities applications.
Support for the technology is gathering pace. The Wi-SUN Alliance claims a 60 per cent rise in its membership during the last 12 months. As of April 2018, its total membership stood at 180 – with members in “every corner” offering over 80 Wi-SUN products, in turn creating ecosystem it claims “stretches” to 89 million capable devices. It is the “most widely deployed IoT network technology in the world”, it claims.
Consultancy Rethink Technology estimates companies in the Wi-SUN ecosystem will see compound annual growth of 20 per cent, as mesh network technology reaches into new verticals and different business models emerge. ESB Telecoms in Ireland and UPC in Switzerland and have recently selected W-SUN to run alongside their core licensed cellular offerings.
“While capable of multi-mile transmissions, the mesh protocol can make multiple hops between end points to reach its intended destination. It also tends to have much lower latencies than other unlicensed LPWAN protocols, and usually higher bandwidth – and it’s IPv6 compliant,” says Rethink Wireless in a blog post.
“LoRa and Sigfox seem to have it beat when it comes to power usage, but Wi-SUN’s utility focus makes this something of a moot point. For smart electricity meters and streetlights, a power supply is not a problem – the module can draw from the electricity in the device. With 89m devices connected to date, it seems to have made a pretty compelling argument.”
It adds: “There are still more national LoRa adopters in Europe than Wi-SUN – not that the likes of Orange or KPN are showing all that much enthusiasm for the unlicensed LPWAN. Wi-SUN has, to date, targeted a pretty specific set of applications, which might make it an easier sell to a network operator to expand into.
“In addition, while Wi-SUN might be a fairly straightforward technology to adopt, it does run into issues when it comes to charging for access. A utility, for instance, could build its own network, and avoid having to pay subscription fees to a network provider. Of course, the trade-off here it the cost of building and maintaining the network, which is why the likes of Silver Spring were able to sell that as a service.”
Silver Spring Networks, picked up by Itron for $830 million in late 2017, was an early champion of Wi-Sun. Its Wi-SUN based IoT proposition, Starfish, now available from Itron, promises cities, energy providers, lighting operators, commercial enterprises, and developers a proven, scalable IoT network, which already supports close to 30 million devices – a good chunk of the total installed Wi-SUN base.
Starfish has been deployed in Bristol, Copenhagen, Glasgow and London in Europe, Chicago, San Antonio and San Jose in the US, and Kolkata in India, to name a few. Silver Spring Networks built on its early relationships in the Republic of Ireland, where it works already in County Mayo, to strike a deal with ESB Telecoms, a subsidiary of the state-owned Electric Supply Board (ESB).
“The telecoms wing runs a wholesale telecommunications network in the country, providing broadband and telephony. Now, ESB Telecoms will also be offering Wi-SUN – providing Irish buyers with the option of 802.15.4g,” comments Rethink Wireless.
ESB Telcoms plans to “accelerate” IoT development in the whole country. “We look forward to helping Ireland become a leader through the deployment of one of the world’s first standards-based national IoT roll-outs,” it said in a statement at the time.
Rethink also reflects on the Swiss win with triple-play comms provider UPC, part of Liberty Global, via Swiss energy solutions provider Elektron. “For UPC, this is a pretty big expansion – launching it into the world of wireless services, something that it has not done before,” it says.
“As a cable TV operator, it already has the backhaul communications network infrastructure to transport the Wi-SUN traffic once it reaches an internet-connected gateway. However, UPC is not doing this alone. It is partnering with Elektron, which specialises in energy efficient designs for five sectors – transport, lighting, payment systems, smart cities, and power.”
The Wi-SUN Alliance has a field area network (FAN) programme for city developers, ultilities and service providers to allow devices to interconnect onto a single network, in support of applications like advanced metering infrastructure, distribution automation, intelligent transport and traffic systems, street lighting, and smart home automation.
Proprietary systems are “no longer sufficiently flexible, or as cost-effective as solutions based on open standards, and will become less relevant within a few years”, it says.
Phil Beecher, president and chief executive of the Wi-SUN Alliance, says: “Wi-SUN continues to be at the forefront of IoT innovation, and as cities, utilities and the industry grows their IoT networks, they are increasingly recognising that industry-wide open standards are essential for interoperability and scalability.
“FAN Certification is an endorsement for governments and the industry that our members’ products are compliant to these open standards, and safeguards quality, interoperability, security, scalability – and ultimately gives customers a competitive advantage.”