Korea’s LoRa Deployment: Complementary Coverage?
As press releases come out and articles show up about Semtech’s LoRa™ platform being rolled out in various areas by carriers, some interesting themes have emerged. One major theme is that LoRa is somehow complementary to NB-IoT as an IoT connectivity solution. Take for example, this article which states:
“SK Telecom completed its low power LTE deployment in March, and says that will be software upgradeable to fully standard NB-IoT if necessary. LoRa complements that, it said, in terms of coverage, and its target applications. NB-IoT will be geared to slightly higher data rates, while LoRa will support ultra-low power applications. And by adding LoRa, SK can achieve 99% population coverage and 90% land mass coverage, though it still aims to improve in-building penetration.”
Just Give Me the Breakdown
There are a few statements/claims here, so let’s break this down a little:
- “SK Telecom completed its low power LTE deployment in March, and says that will be software upgradeable to fully standard NB-IoT if necessary”
- “LoRa complements that, it said, in terms of coverage, and its target applications.”
- “by adding LoRa, SK can achieve 99% population coverage”
Let’s start with number 3. According to OpenSignal, in September 2015 SKT had 96% LTE coverage in S. Korea. And LTE-M adds 15-20 of dB link budget to add roughly 7 times the coverage over LTE. That means that the LTE-M coverage was greater than 96% assuming they turned it on over their entire S. Korea network. Potentially, LoRa was used to help bridge the some part of the 3% gap to bring “IoT Coverage” to 99%. Tie these facts to point 2 and the picture becomes a little clearer: “LoRa complements [LTE-M coverage]…in terms of coverage, and its target applications.” So LoRa complements LTE-M in coverage, which means it covers complementary areas. So, to finish this off, point 3 completes the picture, “by adding LoRa, SK can achieve 99% population coverage.” So, LoRa added at most 3 percentage points of coverage, but likely much less because LTE-M already provides a coverage boost through increased link budget. In other words, it could be less than 3% LoRa coverage, but until they come out and say exactly how much LoRa was used for coverage, we just can’t know.
Add this to the statements from other carriers like Orange whose Senior VP, Luc Bretones “accepts LoRa is effectively a stop-gap as ETSI gets to grips with standardising cellular technology in the form of NB-IoT”. From our assessment of how SKT is using Orange, that is exactly what carriers are using it for.
Finally, how can a technology be complementary in terms of its target applications if it only covers less than 3% of a nation’s population? The simplest and most obvious answer is that LoRa is not complementary in its use cases and is not intended to be. The way SKT has deployed it makes that impossible in any real business case scenario.
Orange has come right out and said that LoRa is a stop-gap, and SKT has come right out and shown that LoRa is a stop-gap. From this, it seems that carriers have no intention of fully utilizing LoRa as anything but a stop-gap until NB-IoT gets around to having commercially available hardware.