LoRaWAN, que je t’aime – Orange reaffirms LoRa affair, keeps the WAN in LoRaWAN
Mobile operator Orange has reaffirmed its support for LoRaWAN in France “until at least 2027”, committing to maintain the non-cellular technology as a terrestrial IoT network with nationwide coverage in the country of its birth – even as cellular 5G expands as an IoT workhorse in the medium term. It went so far as to suggest LoRaWAN is better than its cellular equivalents, NB-IoT and LTE-M, for battery-powered IoT, and name-checked Microsoft and Amazon as colaborators with Orange in the LoRa Alliance.
The message from Orange, responding to an appeal for clarification from Enterprise IoT Insights after fellow operator Bouygues Telecom announced it will shut down its LoRaWAN network in France from 2024, and stop selling LoRaWAN immediately, goes some way to resolve a dramatic untangling of French-born unlicensed IoT, which has also seen Toulouse-based Sigfox go into receivership and bankruptcy in France and the US, respectively.
The final case for the sale of Sigfox’s Toulouse-based tech business will be heard in court today (April 5); an announcement about the winning deal, from a list of nine bidders, will be made shortly. But the word from Orange will be well-received by the wider LoRa community. For different reasons, both the Bouygues decision and the Sigfox debacle have looked like a reckoning for non-cellular public IoT infrastructure.
An Orange spokesperson responded: “Orange will continue to operate its public LoRaWAN network in France until at least 2027. Orange has a portfolio of solutions and technologies that are suitable for a range of use cases. Among them, Orange deployed a public LoRaWAN network in France to address use cases for very low consumption. LoRaWAN is the fastest growing license-free LPWA technology, with an increasing interest from many players such as Microsoft and Amazon – which, like Orange, are members of the LoRa Alliance.
“In addition, it is a perfect fit for usage with a static connected object, transmitting a minimum volume of data, in areas with limited radio coverage – such as car parks, cellars, basements, and so on. Following tests and deployments in several subsidiaries, Orange Group has seen that LoRaWAN technology consumes less energy than its mobile network counterparts, NB-IoT and LTE-M. IoT services, deployed by our customers, must maintain self-sufficient energy levels for many years, as with connected water meters, skip monitoring, and so on.”
To an extent, Orange’s commitment to offer nationwide non-cellular IoT keeps the WAN (wide-area network) in LoRaWAN; but for the big two public-operator efforts in France, it has tended to exist – as a terrestrial infrastructure, at least – as a collection of local-area networks (LANs), causing some wags to refer to it as LoRaLAN. (Even the ‘long-range’ in LoRa has looked like a misnomer, in practical terms.)
Unlike with Sigfox (to its cost, ultimately) and straight cellular (which has struggled to kick-start the developer market), the LoRa business model has compelled private enterprises to build private networks to stand-up LPWA/LPLA IoT apps. IoT roaming between scattered LoRaWAN installations has been hard to sell, generally; satellite compatibility has sought to resolve this, and make 101-tracking viable, even as a national IoT use-case.
The emergence of crowd-sourced IoT, with the novel Helium (Nova Labs) and Sidewalk (Amazon) networks, running LoRaWAN and LoRa, respectively, have also shown promise. But cellular-based NB-IoT and LTE-M have looked suddenly-capable as international IoT solutions. Bouygues Telecom made clear the late rise of cellular IoT – with operators rolling out infrastructure in earnest and getting to grips with pricing and roaming, and finally stimulating the developer market – was behind its decision to can LoRaWAN in France.
In this context, Orange’s public support for public LoRaWAN in France, even as it variously deals with NB-IoT and LTE-M, is massive.