Home5GSemtech on Sierra deal – ‘We are siding with the developer, and siding with the planet’

Semtech on Sierra deal – ‘We are siding with the developer, and siding with the planet’

There is a temptation to view this deal as symbolic, somehow, suggests Enterprise IoT Insights; that with the purchase of cellular IoT champ Sierra Wireless, Semtech is stepping beyond the enduringly fragmented, slightly disjointed, vaguely dysfunctional unlicensed low-power end of the wide-area (LPWA) IoT networking market. Which, one can argue, it had done anyway with LoRa/LoRaWAN – buoyed, as it is, by a vibrant IoT developer community and a developing reputation as the go-to wide-area tech for battery-powered ‘things’. Outside of China, at least. 

Because, at a glance, Semtech’s deal, confirmed a couple of weeks back, to purchase Canada-based Sierra Wireless – playing the other side of the old LPWA divide with cellular-based IoT gateways and modems, plus a serious-looking IoT airtime-MVNO service and a neat-looking IoT management platform – appears like it has thrown-in with cellular crowd to shake-out a long-tail for LoRaWAN. At the same time, the deal also has the non-cellular specialist, owner of the LoRaWAN protocol, as the alpha in the transaction. 

It shows at once how powerful the top-feeder in the unlicensed IoT ecosystem is right now and how crucial its opposite cellular-tech is for the future. It is a tangled observation, about a tangled market. But that is how it seems. Alistair Fulton, in charge of Semtech’s wireless and sensing group, pauses, perhaps to scratch his head; he does not much like talk of ‘takeovers’ and ‘sides’, he says. It is a false negative, fake news, he responds. In the end, the tech is incidental; the only thing that matters is IoT, and IoT is only a means-to-an-end. Or words to that effect. 

Fulton – developers want the whole jigsaw, not just pieces

He responds: “Talk of ‘takeovers’ comes with connotations; this is a deal to bring things together. IoT is massively under-deployed right now. We could debate about whether three, five, or seven percent of potential opportunities have been realised. So any notion about a zero-sum game – of one party winning, one party losing – is a self-conceived notion, actually. The world is out there; I would also challenge the idea, even, that there’s a licensed industry and an unlicensed industry. You know, for the developer, there’s just one industry: an IoT industry. At best.

“Because, actually, the IoT market is made up of thousands of different industries. So whilst we like to think of things in insular terms – because we are engineers, and we’ve developed the technology – developers look at the whole jigsaw, and think, ‘Holy cow, how am I going to deal with this?’ So this deal is not about siding with cellular. It’s not about siding with unlicensed LPWA tech. It’s about siding with the developer. And ultimately it’s about siding with the planet. Because if we can help developers, we can help to address climate change.”

Which is a good answer, of course. It robustly addresses the (industry-made, actually) issue of factions and fragmentation, which has stunted the IoT sector, and makes its resolution a virtue and a direct principle of the deal. And while the point about micro/macro-market/tech terminology is subjective – more often advanced by pedants for point-scoring on social media, mis-understanding that proper usage depends, always, on the audience – it is correct that the IoT market has to appear to the end-user/buyer, finally, via the solution provider, to speak as one.

That – vertical by vertical, often, and solution-by-solution, perhaps – IoT is just the name for a solution, which can integrate and unite a whole bunch of all-area all-power sensor tech, going from RFID to 5G (or wherever) in the network layer, and both ways up-and-down the tech stack, from chip to cloud. (For the record: IoT is a fine description, with flexible meaning, which changes according to its context.) This is the point, says Fulton; the deal is less about joining cellular and non-cellular in hardware, and more about making them work the same for developers.

He explains: “We want all the magic to stay behind the green curtain – so the connectivity just works. There’s long been this holy grail, where you interact with your IoT devices from a single console – to get data in a normalized way so you can just pump it straight into your cloud application. Which is easy to say, harder to do. It means you have to be able to do some basic things – to connect, provision, and manage your devices and data. Which is what we’ve been doing for LoRaWAN and what Sierra has been doing for cellular. 

“And so the combination of the two – [to establish] a single way of interacting with devices regardless of their connectivity type – is enormously complimentary, and also quite natural. That is what we’re trying to deliver here.” Right; so what is going to happen behind the green curtain, as Semtech and Sierra Wireless join together? We get the magic trick, but how will it work?

To be continued…

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