Paula Valverde: “the next step in the implementation of LPWA is related to the demand curve”

Published by Paula Valverde IoT Connectivity Hub

LPWA technology complements current and short-range cellular networks, providing solutions with low energy consumption, long range, and better indoor penetration. This technology is of critical importance in populated urban areas, but also in open areas, where its range is extended dozens of kilometres. In addition, its low-cost allows us to provide solutions to use cases that we have not been able to solve with the current technology. To know more about this technology and their importance, current and future, we asked Paula Valverde Revuelta, Head of New Business at Telefónica and expert in new business leveraging innovation in IoT connectivity.

Solutions where there were none

In the opinion of experts like Paula, LPWA technology is designed to solve problems that cannot be solved satisfactorily until the date and enables massive IoT solutions, what makes it feasible to sensor and connect any object around you (whenever useful). Due to the great diversity of IoT applications, it is impossible to find a single technology that completely satisfies all its needs. However, LPWA technology is not exclusive, but inclusive, which allows us to use a myriad of solutions adapted to each specific use case.

“[LPWA technology] enables the use cases, for example, in which it is necessary really long battery durations, or if we need a better penetration, as would be the case in basements,” Paula explains, talking about the advantages of LPWA. Its application also allows reducing the size of the devices and their cost, greatly expanding the solutions in the field of connectivity. But as we said, the use of LPWA networks must be assisted by different kind of solutions. “It's not useful for everything, but it only applies to certain cases, with limited information, much less than with cellular technology”, says the expert. But do not confuse applications with limitation. This also becomes a point in its favor and allows it complementing the solutions already available in the market in an integrated way, spreading across it faster.

LPWA, here and now

There are currently two major areas in which we can include the solutions based on LPWA technology. The first of them includes solutions that employ regulated, but not licensed, open frequency bands, allowing everyone to use them. This implies greater freedom in its use, which allows more companies to work on the same solutions, as a whole. This is what happens with SigFox, the network in which Telefónica participates as an investor. Other examples such as LoRa are also included within these unlicensed solutions. These are already in the market, settled and growing.

On the other hand, licensed solutions as Narrow Band IoT, or NB-IoT, and Long Term Evolution-M, or LTE-M, have evolved from cellular technology to allow the use of LPWA technology in their networks. “The main difference between these two types of solutions, unlicensed and licensed,” continues Paula, “is that first of them, as SigFox, need to deploy new networks while the latter upgrade the existing cellular networks to acquire this new capability”

But, what is the real situation in terms of these solutions? The expert differentiates between the technical question and the market state: “in terms of technical availability, unlicensed solutions are already available. However, in terms of market traction, although SigFox has more deployment, commercially, the demand is taking off little by little”. Nevertheless, the case of licensed solutions differs in both aspects: “on the licensed solutions, the standard was approved in June 2016. We can say we are maturing or developing the standard already; and we expect to have pilot-tests at the first half of 2017. At the end of this year, the first production-test would be made and in 2018 we would find the first commercial versions “.

From the company to the end user, where are LPWA networks needed?

“Companies will get first and most of the benefits of the technology, because of the type of applications that have the most focus and traction in the sector”, comments Paula Valverde when asked about the advantages of this technology. For example, LPWA networks can be used to monitor data without having to employ individuals to collect the information. This is especially crucial in remote places. Tracking goods could be greatly benefited too by the use of LPWA networks. From preventing and detecting theft, to monitoring and controlling products, tracking could see new applications and use cases. In short, explains Paula, in the end is a combination of industrial applications in which companies are benefitting from a number of advantages. Both, for its own processes and for another series of uses oriented to the “massive IoT Bussines”.

Currently, there are already applications that are working with these solutions. “At Telefónica we have been validating with clients for a year and a half where the demand is. It depends on which solution end-to-end you can find to make each business case work”, says the engineer. Paula explains one of the applications in which the demand has been validated is the smart metering, which consists of automatically monitoring the consumption of water and gas, for example, in places not connected to electricity or indoors. In addition to these cases, there are other applications with great potential but where the solution is being refined end-to-end as it is in the field of Smart Cities. For example in the control of urban furniture, garbage management, lighting or even car parking. In addition to this, LPWA technology will have great application in industrial processes and in building management. Agriculture, Paula says, will also benefit greatly from the implementation of the LPWA for crop control or livestock monitoring. However, it is a field that has not yet begun to be exploited.

The secrets of implantation

Currently, the implementation of LPWA involves combining licensed and unlicensed solutions. This is the strategy carried out at Telefónica, where the particular needs of each case are taken into account. "Although our LPWA offer was based on licensed solutions (NB-IOT / LTE-M) we supplemented it with Sigfox according to the context of each market, the use case or the scenario" explains the expert when talking about licensed and unlicensed solutions. "Besides, for a few years, hybrid solutions will play an important role, even with existing cellular technologies".

Nevertheless, leaving the technical question aside, as regards existing unlicensed solutions, Paula says that the next step in the implementation of the technology will most likely be related to demand. Currently, it still does not meet the expectations generated by analysts years ago around connected objects, which were based on the offers side, but not from the final client point of view. It is necessary to reduce the cost of the end-to-end service needs so that supply and demand met. In the case of licensed technologies, however, the reasons are rather technical. Especially if we talk about interoperability. "We are trying to mature them to allow any device from any vendor to operate under any circumstance in our network; we shouldn't have to worry about what network it is connected" she explains.

What is LPWA waiting to take off?

LPWA is being revealed as a vital technology for the Internet of Things. It will provide solution to a part of the existing M2M applications; but its main focus is to enable the massive IoT. However, much remains to mature in this ecosystem. “LPWA requires new business models beyond pure connectivity", says Paula Valverde. “To take off, it takes several things: first of all, the cost of communication modules has to be much lower. It is something that is already starting to be solved. Secondly, the cost of the devices has to decrease too. Another key issue to address is interoperability. Any device should be able to operate on any network. Scalability is also very important, not only in increasing volume but also in the ability to apply the same solution anywhere in the world. The last issue is that everyone, and we are doing it, should bet for open labs that allows anyone -third parties, developers... to work on LPWA solutions and their use cases, reducing their time-to-market".

- Presentation by Paula Valverde: Validating LPWA demand


Paula Valverde
Head of IoT New Business at Telefonica