Investors sought for KotahiNet's IoT network build

Gateway trials are nearing completion ahead of a LoRaWAN network launch in Wellington in January, KotahiNet CEO Vikram Kumar says.

One-time chief executive of Internet NZ, Mega and The Internet Party in New Zealand, Vikram Kumar is now planning a nationwide network to support the Internet of Things (IoT).

Vikram Kumar

Kumar said his company, KotahiNet, has completed one network gateway trial and is now conducting another with an alternative provider.

"This week we complete the testing and then we will know which gateway we want to rollout across Wellington," Kumar said.

Kumar told ZDNet partnerships and external investment will drive a national rollout after the Wellington launch.

"It's a combination. Initially I'm funding it myself. We are getting some early stage investors soon and plan a larger capital raise after the Wellington launch," he says.

Local wireless providers will be targeted as partners in the regions to deliver the LoRaWAN network. Partnerships will also target users for applications such as delivering real time environmental data.

LoRaWAN is designed for the low data rates typical of the IoT. The network allows battery operated sensors a battery life of 5 to 10 years. Each gateway can handle up to 20,000 smart sensors to connect over a radius of 2.5 to 3 km in urban areas and 10 to 15 km in rural areas, Vikram says.

It will also deliver a step-change in network costs, Kumar says, because components such as base stations are much cheaper and the spectrum is free.

"These are things on the cost scale that are substantially cheaper."

The non-profit LoRa Alliance is working to standardise such Low Power Wide Area Networks (LPWAN) to enable IoT, machine-to-machine and smart city and industrial applications.

KotahiNet has chosen to operate in the 864 to 868 MHz band using unlicensed radio spectrum. That frequency is also the EU standard for the IoTs, delivering access to hardware at global scale and prices, Kumar says.

"The low power, long range segment of the wireless market is expected to grow rapidly," he says. "We are building for connecting millions of 'smart things' nationally. I see it as complementary to existing connectivity choices such as wi-fi and cellular."

KotahiNet's immediate uses will likely be to support smart gas and water meters, Kumar says. Because these devices are battery operated they need a low power network such as the one KotahiNet is planning.

An additional opportunity is smart services and apps for location tracking.

"Whether that's pets, bicycles or business assets, KotahiNet will provide a cheap and easy way to get real-time location data," Kumar says.

"Those two are very clear standouts. There's also a couple of discussions on the smart city side. How do we do smart lighting and smart parking?"