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Sensors required for speedier IoT network deployment

Posted: 09 May 2016     Print Version  Bookmark and Share

Keywords:Senet  IoT network  sensor  LoRa  Internet of Things 

Senet Inc. is set to announce its first two suppliers of LoRa network gateways that signifies a breakthrough in its evolution into an independent service provider for the Internet of Things (IoT). Its succeeding major action demands suppliers to roll out a variety of sensors certified for the network.

The company provides a picture of the accomplishments and struggles many companies face trying to deploy public IoT networks.

Founded in 2009 as EnerTrac, it initially focused on monitoring oil and propane tanks using a proprietary 433MHz network. Eighteen months ago, a new CEO took the company in a new direction, adopting the LoRa specification and setting a course as a broad IoT network services supplier.

The company did an evaluation of low power wide area (LPWA) networks. It chose LoRa in part because it allowed users to adopt any business model. At the technical level, LoRa provided strongest support for bi-directional traffic, nomadic devices and scalable networks, said Steve Ball, a spokesman for Senet.

Rivals Sigfox and Ingenu initially aimed to be service providers for their own technology, however both have started partnering with third parties to deploy networks more quickly. Ingenu announced in February it signed 25 licenses enabling national networks run by third parties; Sigfox announced May 4 partnerships with as many as 100 site owners in the U.S.

EnerTrac is now Senet's largest customer by units and revenue. Senet has sold 50,000 end nodes, 35,000 of them deployed so far across 125,000 square miles in three U.S. regions: the Northeast corridor from Maine to upstate New York, a Midwest patch around Iowa, Missouri and Ohio and the central California Valley.

The 35-person company secured $18 million in financing to deploy its current networks. It's seeking a Series B funding to double its size and expanding into Canada and Mexico. While most of its users are agricultural, it also has emerging networks in San Francisco and Boston with more cities planned.

Courting LoRa gateway, sensor vendors

To propel its next stage of growth, Senet has secured orders for LoRa microcell gateways suitable for urban areas and it's seeking a broader set of sensor vendors.

To date, the company has been using 72-channel macro-cell gateways it designed itself, due to the lack of any off-the-shelf systems geared for the U.S. For longest possible reach, they transmit at 30dBM, the maximum level permitted in the U.S. When placed on towers, they cover 15 miles on average with some reception across distances as great as 95 miles.

This year Senet will start buying lower cost, lower power micro-cell gateways covering three miles in urban environments. It is working with six vendors today, the first two providing systems for use on rooftops and indoors.

"Both have been producing gateways for some time starting in Europe and have volume capability today," said Ball. "Over time we don't expect to differentiate on the capabilities of our own design gateways," he said.

LoRa gateway

Figure 1: Cisco showed a LoRa gateway at a Silicon Valley event but it is said to be less far along than competitors' products. (Image: EE Times)

"The biggest challenge now is availability of production quality sensors," he added.

A variety of sensors for European LPWA networks are already shipping, thanks in part to the fact both LoRa and Sigfox started in France. "We were first to certify propane and oil tank sensors and LoRa gateways for North America," said Ball.

Senet is courting established players such as Bosch, GE and Schneider Electric as well as several dozen startups developing IoT sensors in stealth mode. "Some sensors are starting to become available, but not in volume or not with LoRa radios," he said.

The company's wish list for sensors includes "anything you can image," said Ball. "We have a few dozen different kinds of solutions running in very small volumes today; it's everything from asset tracking to soil moisture sensors to trigger irrigation systems," he said.

Pricing has already become an issue, despite the early days for LPWA nets. "Competitors like Sigfox have been setting the bar low, commoditising the market even before it matures," said Ball.

Sigfox is said to be approaching charges of a dollar per node per year for users deploying volumes approaching a million nodes and sending just a couple messages a day. Senet handles pricing on a negotiated basis in the ballpark of tens of dollars per node per year across a few thousand nodes sending hourly messages.

- Rick Merritt
  EE Times

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