The explosion of internet of things (IoT) has led to the growing need for connecting devices like sensors and actuators. As many IoT devices require relatively low speed and small amounts of data transmission, low power wide area networking (LPWAN) technologies have come onto the scene.
Like many other countries, LPWAN technologies are getting lots of attention among service providers, hardware manufacturers and enterprises in Hong Kong. The building of LPWAN networks, the manufacture of IoT devices and testing are underway in the city.
Compared to cellular or traditional wireless connectivity technologies, LPWAN has lower power requirements and offers a longer range of connectivity and battery life at lower costs.
They are suited to applications such as city lighting, energy grid and meter management and parking space monitoring. These applications transmit small messages like temperature, movement, battery status and many more in just a few bytes.
Generally speaking, LPWAN technologies can be separated into two discrete groups—technologies operating in a license spectrum like NB-IoT (narrow band IoT) and those using unlicensed spectrum like LoRaWAN and Sigfox.
Proposed by 3GPP, NB-IoT leverages existing GSM or LTE cellular networks with software upgrades to existing base stations. More carriers are already moving ahead with NB-IoT functionality in their mobile networks. 3GPP is a telco industry body behind the standardization of cellular systems.
LoRaWAN is driven by semiconductor company Semtech and is supported by the LoRa Alliance. The alliance members include carriers and technology vendors.
Sigfox is a network owned by the company of the same name, which has teamed up with third-party operators to deploy the network globally. Sigfox uses ultra narrowband, which means lower throughput. LoRaWAN is not as low power as Sigfox but can support higher bandwidth applications.
Network building & device development
IoT infrastructure provider Thinxtra has extended Sigfox network into Hong Kong. The company has already built Sigfox networks in Australia and New Zealand.
“We chose Hong Kong because it’s Mainland China’s gateway and can deliver scale production of IoT devices, which could be made available around the world on the Sigfox technology,” said Murray Hankinson (pictured, right), managing director of Thinxtra Asia.
Though it is not necessary to get a telecom license to operate the Sigfox network, Thinxtra is applying it from the Office of the Communications Authority (OFCA) in Hong Kong.
Scheduled to launch later this year, the Thinxtra network in Hong Kong can link to other Sigfox networks in 32 countries worldwide, which are expected to reach 60 by end 2018, according to him. The company has partnered with a number of local system integrators, device makers and solution developers, aiming to create an ecosystem in Hong Kong.
Thinxtra announced early this month a partnership with local electronics products manufacturer Victory Concept. Both companies will initially develop a low-cost environmental sensor, a low-cost GPS tracker and a low-cost tracker that uses Sigfox’s geo-location service for asset tracking.
Furthermore, Thinxtra is also collaborating with Hong Kong Science and Technology Parks Corporation on R&D and the local design of IoT devices and applications.