SAN JOSE, Calif — Claiming that the internet of things (IoT) is reaching a tipping point, the LoRa Alliance announced that it has more than 100 networks operating around the world. It plans to expand certification and testing programs this year to ease deployments, which it claims already cover millions of end nodes.

LoRa is one of a basketful of long-range, wide-area networks trying to get traction in IoT. It competes with OnRamp, Sigfox, Telensa, and others in unlicensed bands and with cellular Cat-M and Narrowband IoT networks from cellular carriers.

Wi-Fi vendors will roll out chips for the 802.11ah standard — aka HaLow — this year, increasing competition in the 900-MHz band. Practitioners say it’s still early days for IoT given that each deployment tends to require custom work defining a business case and designing a network for it.

“I’m very bullish; I do think we are at a crossroads where it is now a market pull,” said Donna Moore, a 10-year veteran of the Digital Living Network Alliance before becoming chief executive of the LoRa Alliance last year.

IoT is “complicated and requires more ease of deployment — that’s one of the big reasons why IoT has stuttered around the ground,” Moore said. “In the next quarter, we’ll launch a product marketplace and we see integrators coming in, offering more easy solutions.”

This year, the Alliance aims to roll out a certified software stack and new pre-test options, so vendors can check their products before sending them to a testing house. It also aims to add RF and battery life tests and more regional parameters to its certification suite for modules.

The group aims to demo over-the-air firmware updates at a meeting in February. The specs are already complete for the five- to 10-minute process, first shown at a 2017 meeting. Specs for roaming across networks are also complete, but operators are still hammering out business agreements with each other for handling the service.

Microcell gateways for LoRa can handle 7,000 to 10,000 nodes, about the same as a HaLow gateway. Lora’s picocells manage up to 3,000 nodes, but its macrocells can handle tens of thousands. LoRa claims range of several kilometers, typically further than HaLow.

A whirlwind tour of world IoT markets

The LoRa Alliance currently focuses on four vertical markets — agricultural, industrial, smart buildings, and smart homes. Moore claims that low-bandwidth nets like LoRa will take three quarters of the IoT market, but in some regions, it’s too early to call.

For example, SenRa started in India in 2017 and now operates a LoRa net serving 30 cities. So far, all of its users have been pilot projects and proofs of concept in areas such as water and gas meters, parking systems, streetlights, and waste management.

“We are coming to the end of these projects and are pretty confident [that] commercial deployments will start kicking in by June,” said Ali Hosseini, chief executive of SenRa and marketing co-chair of the Alliance.

The Indian government has announced intentions to spend $14 billion on 100 smart cities. For its part, SenRa aims to deploy its net in 30 more cities this year and reach 100 by 2020. India’s cellular carriers are announcing Narrowband IoT plans but are also quietly speaking with LoRa carriers like SenRa, Hosseini said.

In the U.S., Comcast announced that it is offering connections in 13 cities to the LoRa network it announced in 2017. One more large network operator in the U.S. will adopt LoRa soon, Moore said.

A LoRa press release on its 100-network milestone did not include any statements from users in China, where Narrowband IoT is a focus for some carriers. However, Alibaba is deploying a LoRa net, ZTE sit on the group’s board, and TenCent recently joined the Alliance as a sponsor, Moore said.

In France, cellular carrier Orange has announced a deal to link 3 million water meters to its LoRa network within a year. Orange said that its network covers 95% of the urban population of France.

Elsewhere, American Tower in Brazil covers São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, and Belo Horizonte and plans to reach about 80 cities by mid-2019. For its part, Swisscom covers 96.6% of the Swiss population.

— Rick Merritt, Silicon Valley Bureau Chief, EE Times.