Too many IoT networks? Cisco just bet on this one

Cisco is introducing gateways for LoRaWAN networking

20151005 Cisco headquarters sign

A large sign at the curb greets arrivals at Building 9 of the Cisco Systems campus in San Jose, California, on Oct. 5, 2015.

Credit: Stephen Lawson

Cisco Systems just cast a vote of confidence in one of the many technologies that might get your next IoT device online.

On Tuesday, the company announced gateways between LoRaWAN low-power wireless networks and fatter pipes like Ethernet cables. The gateways can take in data from sensors and other small Internet of Things devices and send it back to an enterprise or cloud.

This is Cisco’s first commercial foray into LPWANs (low power, wide area networks), a new generation of infrastructure designed for devices that are too small and power-constrained to use cellular.

Several technologies are vying to become the LPWAN of choice for enterprises and service providers. LoRaWAN, based on a specification from the LoRa Alliance industry group, is one of the frontrunners. Proprietary networks from companies such as SigFox and Ingenu are also pushing hard to play that role.

Another LPWAN system, NB-IoT, looms over this fast-moving market because it’s based on LTE and could be implemented fairly easily on mobile operators’ networks. NB-IoT has just become a standard and is expected to hit the market in a big way next year. But one place NB-IoT won’t play is in enterprises, so LoRa technology may have a big future in businesses that build their own IoT infrastructure.

One way to think about NB-IoT and other LPWAN technologies is like Wi-Fi and cellular, said Ovum analyst Daryl Schoolar. Rather than competing directly, they complement each other and many carriers use both. SK Telecom, for example, is pursuing both NB-IoT and LoRaWAN deployments. Dutch carrier KPN has introduced LoRaWAN but said it’s open to NB-IoT.

By choosing LoRaWAN for its first entry into this space, Cisco isn’t taking a big risk or ruling out other technologies in the future. The company has already run LoRaWAN trials, including a smart-city deployment in Dubai. It hasn’t yet decided whether to make NB-IoT products or any other kind of LPWAN in the future.

But the fact that the dominant maker of networking gear is announcing actual products for LoRaWAN should give enterprises more confidence that this technology will have a broad and reliable ecosystem, analyst Peter Jarich of Current Analysis said.

Join the Network World communities on Facebook and LinkedIn to comment on topics that are top of mind.
Must read: Hidden Cause of Slow Internet and how to fix it
Notice to our Readers
We're now using social media to take your comments and feedback. Learn more about this here.