Semtech on 2021: Availability and simplicity to drive critical mass for LPWAN systems
One thing that became abundantly clear during the Covid-19 pandemic was the importance of the supply chain throughout the enterprise. From the factory floor through distribution to retail stores and deliveries, there is an increased imperative to track and manage billions of items as they move around the world.
This has highlighted a gap that will see a major focus in 2021 as key technologies converge and mature.
While the enterprise has been taking advantage of software advances in machine learning, large database management, and portable containerised applications, it is the quality of the incoming data that remains a significant challenge. Collecting the right data quickly and efficiently is hard. Making it accessible and actionable when there are billions of data points is a real headache.
That is changing significantly as low power wide area network (LPWAN) systems are gaining critical mass, and this is set to accelerate significantly in 2021 for a number of reasons.
These low-bit rate, low latency and robust networks are widely used across the factory floor to monitor equipment as part of industrial IoT. This is shaking out much of the complexity of the IoT implementations, determining where edge computing and fog computing can be put to best use and how this data is ingested into the cloud.
Low-cost LPWAN sensors and IoT nodes can now be seamlessly attached to major cloud providers, from Amazon Web Services to Microsoft Azure. This is a big step. Being able to have a simple process for delivering data ‘in the wild’ into the cloud gives the enterprise tremendous power for analysis and management. This is being enhanced by simplified systems for ‘on-boarding’, using QR codes to add devices quickly and easily without the need for complex processes.
As the costs of simple tracking devices falls, the next stage has been to monitor work in progress, with the associated links to the enterprise resource planning (ERP) tools. The recovery from the pandemic in 2021 is opening up the ability to track devices not just through the factory but through the distribution chain and into retail. LPWAN connections built into more and more equipment for monitoring in-situ can be used in manufacturing and transit as well.
As enterprises roll out LPWAN systems, more base stations become available across the city. The infrastructure is becoming ubiquitous, allowing tracking across wider areas. Where previously enterprises jealously guarded their infrastructure, the example of public LPWAN networks has shown the advantage of sharing network access.
Recent advances with access control and security have enabled effective sharing that can dramatically increase the coverage available to the enterprise and slash data acquisition costs across the IoT.
This is a compelling combination, and it’s not just driven by enterprise applications. Enhancements to consumer equipment such as the Amazon Echo and Helium shareable home base stations in 2021 will see LPWAN connections become available in millions of homes and accessible across the majority of urban areas. The Helium peer-to-peer network approach also opens up easier ways to quickly expand IoT networks.
This is a tremendous opportunity for enterprise IoT. Network expansion for LPWAN is happening at a fraction of the cost of the roll out of a cellular network, and that is a huge benefit for IoT. Coupling with the ease of adding nodes to a cloud-based data network delivers the scaling that is necessary to gain the advantages of the IoT.
The final trend is the collaboration across different IoT technologies. From an enterprise perspective many technologies may be necessary for different locations, multiple nodes and terminals and a wide variety of applications. Interoperability has been driven at the cloud level, and 2021 will allow many types of connectivity to work effectively together for the efficient IoT implementations that industry wants.
The pandemic has encouraged enterprises to consider how to ‘build back better’. Long distance, low power LPWAN wireless technology has already demonstrated its role in the smart factory, and through 2021 will expand in numerous ways for more effective enterprise IoT.