Roaming in the Internet of Things (IOT), that is to say, this ability to allow an IOT sensor to transmit data on a network other than the one on which it was activated, especially abroad , is seen today as a brake on the deployment of some International IOT projects.
Of the IOT public networks, only M2M (Machine-To-Machine – 3G, 4G) offers roaming. This is one of the reasons for its success. Almost worldwide coverage.
But in the field of low-speed networks, low energy consumption (the famous LPWAN networks – Low Power Wide Area Network), the story is totally different.
SigFox offers, by nature, “roaming”, since it is in fact one and the same network deployed in many countries. The problem is that SigFox is far from having a global coverage. Relatively good coverage in Western Europe, South America and Australia, but a lack of coverage in several Eastern European countries, a total absence in Russia and most Asian countries, as well as than in Africa.
LoRaWAN, the most widespread LPWAN network technology in the world, does not offer roaming today. The LoRaWAN alliance has released a Roaming specification, but things are moving slowly on the ground.
- The reasons behind this slowness?
Technical issues. We note that roaming tests involve operators, but also the provider of network layers behind LoRa – notably Actility -. A recent specification, and therefore the need to test that all implementations of it are correct and compatible with competing products.
- Commercial problem. Per-device revenue from LoRaWAN connectivity is low. It’s a volume market, with low revenue per device. This means that operators must share micro-revenues, in all countries where an IOT sensor will potentially be used, with local prices that may also vary.
- A motivation problem? Traditional mobile operators will all update their 4G network to support NB-IOT (Narrow Band IOT), an alternative LPWAN network. If NB-IOT will not provide the same benefits, especially in terms of battery autonomy, deploy this network for a 4G operator, just means an update (mainly software) of their current network. No new antennas, no new base stations. Of course, NB-IOT Telecom Operators will also have to negotiate and implement NB-IOT roaming, but it will probably be simpler because it will be in the continuity of 3G-4G roaming.
- The real need? All IOT projects do not require roaming. For example, in smart metering or smart building, by definition, sensors do not move. They remain linked to a fixed location. In these local projects, even national, the need for roaming is non-existent.
In which cases is LPWAN Roaming needed?
Although many LoRaWAN deployments can be content with local or national coverage, there are still several cases where roaming is highly desirable or even essential. Some examples:
- Mobile Equipment (logistics) or machines to be moved internationally (parcels, containers …).
- Implementation of the IOT to fight against theft. Local coverage does not provide the ability to trace the connected object as soon as it leaves the boundaries or coverage area of a local LoRaWAN network
- Deployment of IOT by a multi-national, or by an internationally active company. Sign connectivity contracts in all countries where you are active, with local operators. Integrate the LoRaWAN platforms of each operator (LoRAWAN is not an IP protocol, so it is necessary to develop a gateway between each operator and its own IOT platform or software solution). A logistical and technical constraint potentially important.
- Deployment of an international product offer, based on LoRaWAN sensors.
Alternatives to Roaming LoRaWAN ?
If LoRaWAN Roaming is not offered by national telecom operators, this will undoubtedly be a great opportunity for the development of an MVNO (Mobile Virtual Network Operator) offer, namely virtual operators that will consolidate offers of Local LoRaWAN operators, to offer a global offer, an single invoice and a single interface, based on local operator networks … They already exist for M2M. They will certainly extend their offers to the IOT sphere… If these offers of MVNO IOT do not allow a real Roaming (namely that a device will not be able to communicate on another network), they will offer at least the management of a single commercial relationship, and a unique technical integration.
In addition, one of the characteristics of LoRaWAN networks is the lack of a deployment license. Any business, any citizen, can deploy its own private LoRa network. A multinational that needs to connect its machines or equipment in LoRa, can therefore deploy its own LoRaWAN base stations, create and operate its own network. International network. And thus to propose a unique connectivity for its own needs!
LPWAN Roaming status
As explained above, SigFox offers a “natural roaming”. For NB-IOT, technology that traditional operators 3G – 4G (licensed operators …) will support, we are at the stage of deployment and technical tests. The first commercial offers will appear soon. Roaming is not yet the priority.
Clearly, Roaming and Global Coverage will probably be one of the main advantages that NB-IOT Operators will put forward, to differentiate themselves from other LPWAN networks (LoRaWAN, SigFox, RPMA …).
- Orange and KPN. In February 2018, at the Mobile World Congress, the LoRaWAN Alliance announced that Orange and KPN had started roaming tests, in partnership with Activity (provider of the LoRaWAN network server used by the two French and Dutch operators)
- One year more early (February 2017), Proximus also announced roaming tests with Objenious, the French IOT subsidiary Bouygues Telecom.
- Also in 2017, Objenious (Bouygues Telecom) carried out Roaming LoRaWAN tests with the Russian public operator LoRaWAN LARTECH.
But at the moment, we can not say that Roaming LoRa commercial offers are available. In any case no offer for serious coverage, European, or international. The future will tell if the LORAWAN Roaming will emerge, or if the roaming will be focused on NB-IOT, leaving the public LORAWAN offer limited to national deployments, and opening the battle field to a multitude of private LoRaWAN networks …