The Netherlands is the world's first country to complete a nationwide network dedicated to IoT (Internet of Things), in a major symbolic milestone for the technology trend.
More than a dozen other countries have also announced plans to build national networks based on the LoRaWAN specification for low-power wide area radio networks. The project took eight months, with the rollout starting in the Hague and Rotterdam, said Dutch telco KPN, which developed the network, in a press release:
The existence of the easily accessible LoRa network makes it simple to develop smart applications and to optimize processes and services. KPN has already contracted 1.5 million 'devices' that will be connected to the LoRa network. This number is expected to grow rapidly now that the network is available in the whole of the Netherlands. In the months ahead KPN will further optimize the LoRa network by condensing the network; the much-requested localization functionality will become available too.
"Last year we identified an increasing demand for low-power network technology for Internet of Things applications. We are responding to this by choosing LoRa, so millions of devices can be connected to the internet in a cost-effective manner," says Joost Farwerck, Chief Operations Officer and member of the Board of Management of KPN. "
KPN says IoT applications have already been tied into the network. There are also "numerous" proof-of-concept projects underway, such as one involving baggage handling and facility services at Schiphol Airport, and another by the Utrecht Central train station to monitor rail switches. KPN had the advantage of its existing infrastructure; to build the LoRaWAN network, it added gateways and antennas to hundreds of mobile transmission towers.
LoRaWAN is a supplement to, not a replacement for existing wireless networks that serve mobile devices, which use a considerable amount of bandwidth and are in constant contact with the network. Rather, it focuses on connecting sensors and other devices which have very low power and bandwidth requirements, but which in aggregate can generate considerable value from the data they collect and transmit.
The standard is being pushed hard by the LoRa Alliance, a fast-growing group that has gained more than 250 members since its inception last year. Members range from large telcos to chipmakers to entrepreneurs.
It made sense for the Netherlands to aggressively move forward with its LoRaWAN plans. For one thing, it's a very flat country with relatively few tall buildings, which are helpful geographic features for LoRaWAN, says Constellation Research VP and principal analyst Andy Mulholland.
Moreover, IoT could play a critical role in monitoring and improving the Netherlands' extensive drainage and flood control infrastructure, while providing a commercial payback for KPM. "There's a huge telemetry marketplace there," Mulholland says. "All of these factors conspire to make both the infrastructure possible and to have a base commercial market in the country. It will become a fascinating test bed to see how other businesses may make use of such a resource."
Meanwhile, although the Netherlands was first to launch a national LoRaWAN network, it beat South Korea by only a few days. SK Telecom announced the availability of its own on July 4.
Whether through the use of LoRaWAN or other specifications, such as RPMA, we can expect rapid progress on IoT-dedicated networks over the coming year, both in terms of the number available and their scope. One company, Ingenu, is making particularly big promises. It says its RPMA-based network will have coverage in many major US metro areas by the end of this year.