Comcast gets into the low-power IoT networking business with Semtech LoRa agreement

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Continuing to unfurl its wireless ambitions, Comcast has signed an agreement with semiconductor maker Semtech Corp. for the trial deployment of LoRa-based low-power wide-areas network (LPWAN) technology in the U.S. 

Under the agreement, Comcast will trial machineQ, a new service built for low-power internet of things (IoT) services, based on LoRa technology. LoRa is one of numerous technologies — along with Sigfox, Ingenu and various 3GPP cellular standards — competing for an emerging IoT market based on low-power, low-cost wireless networking. These technologies support slow-speed wireless network services, connected to inexpensive devices with years of battery life, for a wide range of business verticals such as agricultural companies, utilities and others.

Using Semtech’s wireless radio frequency technology, Comcast will deploy low-power wide-areas networks in Philadelphia and San Francisco in the fourth quarter, performing such tasks as utility metering, environmental monitoring (e.g., temperature, pollution, noise), and asset tracking through LoRa technology-enabled devices and network services. 

If the trial is successful, the MSO said it might expand it up to 30 cities over a period of 30 months. 

"We believe the business-to-business segment of the internet of Things market is going to expand rapidly over the next decade as businesses look to IoT-based technology to manage their businesses in a more effective and sophisticated manner," said Sam Schwartz, chief business development officer, Comcast Cable. "Technologies such as LoRa are setting the stage for the era of connected devices, and we think our network potentially has a role to play in connecting the millions of internet-enabled devices deployed within enterprises.”

The LPWAN investment represents a corporate-wide push into the wireless business by Comcast, which just revealed it will launch a consumer-targeted wireless service in 2017.

In announcing its LoRa plans, Comcast cited data from Machina Research, which predicts that the global number of machine-to-machine connections will grow from 6 billion in 2015 to 27 billion by 2025, with 20 percent of those connections originating in the U.S. 

Machina also predicts that 11 percent of those 27 billion connections will use LPWAN technologies like LoRa. 

Notably, last month, Senet — a startup founded in 2009 that’s building a LoRa-based Internet of Things (IoT) network in locations across the United States — told FierceWirelessTech it is currently generating annual revenues in the “single digit millions” range. However, it expects that to increase in the coming years as it scores more customers and expands its network and operations.

“We’re in that single digit millions range [in annual revenues], and we see that going very rapidly to double digit millions over the next three years, probably double digit to triple digit millions,” Senet's VP of Business Development Will Yapp said. 

Semtech seems similarly confident in the future of low-power IoT networking because the company has granted Comcast a warrant agreement as part of the deal. To help fund the accelerated build-out of the network in 30 major cities, Semtech will let Comcast buy 1,086,957 shares of Semtech’s common stock at a purchase price per share equal to $0.01. The warrant is expected to vest over a period of 30 months and is valued at approximately $30 million, according to Semtech.

"The decision by Comcast to complement its existing infrastructure with LoRa technology will enable connected devices, servers and software components to communicate seamlessly and securely on its new LoRaWAN-based IoT platform," said Mohan Maheswaran, Semtech’s president and CEO, in a statement.

For more:
- read this Mobile World Live story
- read this Comcast press release
- read this press release

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