SAN JOSE, Calif. — Semtech is sampling next-generation LoRa chips that can lower battery consumption and cost while boosting reach and data rates. Separately, a LoRa startup announced a suite of sensor products for consumers using Semtech’s existing chips.
The news comes as one market watcher upgraded its forecast for LoRa, predicting that it will take one of the largest chunks of the rapidly expanding market for low-power wide-area (LPWA) networks in the Internet of Things. It will be closely followed by the Narrowband-IoT (NB-IoT) version of LTE, with Sigfox a distant third, according to the forecast (below) from IHS Markit.
“We’re not seeing a fundamental shakeout in licensed or unlicensed networks; there’s tremendous growth across the board … but over the past year, the outlook has gotten brighter for LoRa and dimmer for Sigfox,” said Sam Lucero, a senior principal analyst for cellular IoT at IHS Markit.
Last year, Comcast and Verizon announced plans to deploy LoRa networks. For its part, Semtech announced that its annual revenue for LoRa chips doubled to $50 million and forecast that it will hit $100 million in 2018.
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It also was a good year for NB-IoT, especially in China, where the government announced in June a policy with goals of reaching 600 million NB-IoT nodes by 2020. Its three carriers followed up with aggressive plans for deployments.
Huawei is creating an NB-IoT ecosystem around its silicon, attracting non-traditional module makers including smartphone design firms shifting to IoT to cash in on the expected growth, said Lucero.
In unlicensed networks, “we’ve had a lot of feedback that the Semtech model of being a public component supplier made for positive evaluations for long-term deployments,” he added. “Its more problematic for Sigfox as a service provider without an option for private networks, and the company can be seen as a single point of failure, particularly given [that] it is venture-backed.”
Sigfox countered that it now has about 1,000 customers, including Airbus, Bosch, and Fujitsu, with services available in 42 countries and 18 more expected by the end of the year. Its networks serve 2 million active devices with an additional 10 million in the pipeline, said Laetitia Jay, Sigfox’s chief marketing officer.
IHS estimates that LoRa has about three times the unit sales of modules for IoT end nodes as Sigfox. But most of Sigfox’s nodes are based on discrete device designs, not modules, said Jay.
IHS Market projects NB-IoT, LoRa in dead heat in LPWA race, with Sigfox a distant third. Click to enlarge.
Sigfox showed in September an end-node design capable of sending a Sigfox message that cost just 20 cents using a printed antenna and oscillator. It is perhaps the lowest cost of many ultra-simple designs competing for use in millions of end nodes, including smart packages for retailers such as Walmart.
This year, Sigfox will enable global roaming capabilities with nodes that automatically switch among four frequencies, depending on their region. It also aims to enhance its location-tracking capabilities to within a kilometer using a form of triangulation.
Sigfox currently plans no more fundraising after a $115 million round that it secured in early 2015. It aims to break even by the end of 2018.
“Most of the investments we need to do are done,” said a company spokesman, noting that service operators invest in Sigfox network build-outs, sometimes spending millions of dollars. “Our cloud is running, R&D is done, and we do not have to invest in more infrastructure.”
Next page: Inside Semtech’s new LoRa silicon