LPWAN’s Life & Death Struggle: Ingenu’s Answer


The LPWAN (low power wide area network) area is surging ahead, on virtually a global basis as there is growing interest in how the complex communications needs of the complex Internet of Things (IoT) are going to be met. One of the most interesting entrants in this arena is Ingenu, a U.S.-based technology and network provider. We spoke recently with Brian Johnson, Senior Business Development Manager, about the company and its business strategy.

The LPWAN area is challenging both because of the intricacies of the IoT and the competitive structure, which includes a fairly large number of independent entrants, as well as the looming dark shadow of the oligopolistic (or even monopolistic, for some) cellular industry.

Ingenu’s Distinctiveness

Johnson pointed out that Ingenu has been operating since 2008. Originally named On-Ramp Wireless, he stated that the company has provided multiple “private” networks in some 20 countries. Since about September of 2015, when the company’s name was changed, they have been pursuing the goal of establishing the Machine Network, a network designed specifically to provide for the communications needs of the widest possible range of machines (i.e., IoT).

The network uses 2.4 GHz spectrum, which is part of the unlicensed ISM (industrial, scientific and medical) bands. 2.4 GHz is recognized on a worldwide basis and used for a slew of devices, e.g., WiFi routers, Bluetooth, garage door openers.

The Ingenu network consists of:

  1. RPMA (Random Phase Multiple Access) radio links from customer endpoints to;
  2. Ingenu Access Points, with;
  3. Backhaul (of the standard varieties common in wireless networks) to;
  4. Ingenu’s Cloud.

The key to the company’s distinctiveness is its use of RPMA. The company describes its RPMA technology as “Designed from the ground up for machine communications.” Johnson points out that Ingenu’s proprietary position includes the fact that it has enhanced RPMA with 32 patents.

RPMA Technology Leadership

One of Ingenu’s key claims is that a signal from a single access point can cover 300 square miles. Ingenu explains that this amount of coverage is possible largely because of the ability of their version of RPMA to increase receiver sensitivity. (Receiver sensitivity is defined as “the lowest power level at which the receiver can detect an RF signal and demodulate data,” per Digi.) As a signal propagates in space its power decreases, so that a more sensitive receiver can greatly increase the distance at which a signal can be received and understood.

RPMA also increases the power of the transmission, which is one of the reasons it utilizes the 2.4 GHz spectrum band. The FCC, for example, allows higher transmission power for 2.4 GHz links than for 900 MHz links.

As a result, Ingenu claims, the 300-square mile coverage of RPMA dwarfs typical coverage of LTE cellular, about 16 square miles, and ultra narrowband technologies that range from 1 to 9 square miles of coverage, varying between the U.S. and Europe.

The company makes a number of additional claims for RPMA, that:

  1. Each access point can support up to 64,000 endpoints;
  2. It uses “smart modules” with “transmit power control” allowing the system to accommodate tens of billions of devices;
  3. They can achieve throughput of 19,000 bps/MHz (the company utilizes 1 MHz channel width) and this is “over 54x the throughput of the next closest LPWA provider.”
  4. Battery life can exceed 20 years and security is built in through 256-bit encryption and other features.

One of the company’s supporters, Andrew Viterbi, a co-founder of Qualcomm and one of the key commercial developers of CDMA (code division multiple access) has stated:

“RPMA is as significant an innovation for M2M communication as CDMA was for traditional cellular.”

Ingenu Business Model

Johnson points out that Ingenu has been providing private networks for industrial companies and others, in the U.S. and internationally, for several years. The company claims 38 active customers among: utilities, municipalities, energy companies, agricultural enterprises and others. Ingenu has about 150 employees currently.

Going forward it appears that its business model is a combination of network operations – in the U.S. – and technology licensing to operators in other countries. In the U.S., the company has stated that it expects the Machine Network to cover over 30 major metro areas by end of year 2016, and more than double this number during 2017.

Johnson emphasizes the extent of the coverage in a given area. He explains, “In the Dallas area we cover about 2500 square miles, including Fort Worth and beyond with only 17 access points.”

As far as international operations go, Johnson states, “We’re in negotiations with 63 parties and have about 38-40 arrangements signed. We plan to have an exclusive operator per country.” Ingenu CEO, John Horn has been reported in the press stating that he foresees the company’s revenue, over time, coming principally from technology licensing, rather than direct network operations.

Partners – Developers & Technology

As for the Machine Network, Johnson told us that the revenue model includes working with providers of apps to various verticals and end user customers. For example, in the LED lighting area, Ingenu is currently working with LED Roadways and featuring their app. For smart water metering, they work with Smart Grid Technologies. In the smart parking area he reports they are in discussions with a couple of potential app providers. Johnson stated that these are not exclusive relationships.

Under this revenue model, he explained, they would charge the app partner, which Johnson stated could be based on a per line served per month arrangement. We asked if Ingenu plans to also gain revenue based on analytics derived from its network traffic and Johnson replied, “Not at this time. We’re basically the transmission medium or pipe and someone can bolt on analytics in partnership with us, to our backend.”

The company announced at CTIA in September that it has reached an agreement with Switzerland-based u-blox, a leading wireless module and chip supplier, to offer products incorporating the Ingenu RPMA technology. u-blox had also announced earlier in the year that it would supply modules for Cat NB1 (formerly NB-IoT) one of the cellular carriers’ competing solutions. However, the CEO of u-blox stated about RPMA, “We believe that Ingenu has superior technology to support growth of unlicensed spectrum technologies.”

The company also recently signed up Podsystem as a distribution partner. Podsystem is an MVNO (mobile virtual network operator) that describes itself as providing connectivity solutions in areas including the M2M market. (www.podsystemm2m.com)

The IoT and What It All Means

In an article mobilecloudera.com published in October 2015, we noted the confusion created by the very phrase IoT. As developments continue, there is increasing recognition that what is called IoT embraces a vast array of quite different vertical markets and potential applications.

This is helpful, because when it comes to networking needs, it focuses the discussion on which of several technology alternatives best serve which markets. And the technology alternatives at this point are several. Networking technology has been proliferating from two primary types of sources:

Emerging Independent Providers, of which Ingenu is one: Others include, e.g., Sigfox, the LoRa Alliance, Weightless SIG (see: “Nwave: Implementing The IoT,” MCE 8/27/15). Sigfox and LoRa have been expanding their coverage rapidly, including in the U.S., with Sigfox planning to build networks in 100 cities by year end 2016 and LoRa licensee, Senet, claiming over 100 cities covered as of June 2016 and planning to double coverage in the following 12 months.

Cellular Industry Solutions, of which some have been announced as of mid-year, with inspiring titles: Cat M1 (1.4 MHz channel size and throughput of about 375 kbps uplink and 300 kbps downlink;) and Cat NB1 (channel size of 200 kHz and 10s of kbps throughput.) These utilize LTE spectrum, as opposed to independent solutions that use unlicensed spectrum in various bands.

While each of these technologies are optimized for at least certain types of applications and industries, a principal tenet of Ingenu is that its network and technology are robust enough to successfully accommodate the widest range of use cases. This claim received support from a recent independent study that concluded that the company’s RPMA technology “has the broadest appeal across diverse use cases.” (“Best Fit Use Cases for LPWANs,” ABIresearch.)

Johnson states that, “We’re positioned somewhat in the middle between the cellular guys and the other independent LPWAN providers.” Ingenu claims that the Machine Network “meets the low data needs of 86% percent of IoT devices while also providing years of battery life.”

Our Take: Lessons from WiMAX and Other Issues

We’re impressed with what Ingenu has achieved in the last year on the LPWAN scene. We also note the “pedigree” of the company, including the participation, as advisors, by some outstanding cellular industry (Verizon) veterans and the endorsement of RPMA by an authority of Viterbi’s stature. He is also an advisor of the company.

We see Ingenu facing two principal challenges, both of which are challenges to all of the competitive entrants in the IoT market. The first is the overriding challenge of the entire IoT industry. Success rests not just on the quality and efficiency of the transmission networks, but primarily on the ability of apps developers to come up with capabilities and overall offerings and prices that are convincing to the end user companies and other entities that are expected to foot the bill.

The jury is frankly out on this overriding issue and the whole series of patterns of acceptance that will vary by vertical and application type. (See MCE article: “Internet Of Things” – Identifying The Real Issues, 10/5/15.) We continue to believe that the area, while very dynamic, is still also very confused and is better described as primarily Machine-To-Cloud, rather than as Internet Of Things, or Machine-To-Machine.

The second issue is the accelerated emergence of solutions from the cellular industry. The carriers made their IoT response a matter of highest priority particularly within the past year or so. It has resulted in some early solutions, such as the June announcement concerning Cat M1 and Cat NB1. In the U.S. AT&T announced plans in July for a test beginning later this year of an IoT network in San Francisco, utilizing Cat M1 technology. Verizon has also been working on Cat M1 and has been hyping IoT for some time, its latest report – “State of the Market: Internet of Things 2016.”

Moreover, Verizon just announced, 9/12/16, that they were acquiring Sensity Systems, a provider of LED lighting solutions for the IoT. (See MCE article: “Sensity: Lighting As A Key Component Of IoT” 9/4/15.)

This has an eerie similarity to developments when WiMAX (the mobile version in particular) was appearing on the scene, about a decade ago. Then the carriers, spearheaded by Verizon rushed LTE to market, driven by the fear that WiMAX would capture a major share of the broadband market.

There are some apparent differences in the LPWAN situation versus WiMAX. Due to the heavy investment by Intel, WiMAX was a single, unified standard, whereas the LPWAN competition is coming from a diverse number of technology sources and approaches. In our opinion, this is not a very significant difference, because: a) the underlying issue is whether the big, dominant companies can crush relatively miniscule, emerging competitors; and b) the advent of WiMAX was also crippled by the interminable infighting between the two major WiMAX players in U.S., Clearwire and Sprint. So while the technology was unified, there was no timely business unity among the competitors to the cellular giants.

The other apparent difference – and more significant in our view – is that WiMAX technology was intended as the next generation solution for broadband and the potentially mammoth mobile data market, which involved millions, eventually billions, of rather standardized devices and broadly common uses; while, as we have observed, IoT (or whatever one prefers to call it) is, currently at least, a hodgepodge of different types of devices, applications and use cases.

This latter difference appears to offer increased hope for the LPWAN competitors that the carriers are going to have a hard time filling all the niches in the market. Ingenu’s take is that it believes it has the broadest range of possible apps that it can accommodate, versus others who may be thought of as providers of, “One size fits some.”

This is an exciting area, in which there is a high level of creative energy and a lot of money at stake. We at MCE will continue to follow it extremely closely.

Visit their website: www.ingenu.com

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