French telco incumbent Orange says technically there is nothing to prevent LoRa technology from being used in licensed spectrum bands but that existing equipment and regulations would not support such a move.
Using unlicensed spectrum, the operator has been deploying a LoRa network in France as part of its Internet of Things (IoT) strategy.
LoRa is one of several low-power, wide-area (LPWA) network technologies that have emerged over the last few years in the absence of a low-cost cellular alternative.
Along with Sigfox -- a rival LPWA technology -- its main drawback is arguably its reliance on unlicensed airwaves, which can be subject to congestion and interference.
Among other factors, that concern has driven some operators toward an emerging cellular technology called NB-IoT, which was included in the 3GPP's Release 13 in June and is set for commercial deployment next year.
Yet while NB-IoT will use licensed spectrum bands, its technology rivals claim it will remain costlier and less power-efficient than Sigfox and LoRa over the foreseeable future.
As a result, there has been some interest in moving LoRa technology into licensed spectrum bands, according to the LoRa Alliance , an association that promotes LoRa technology. (See Is LoRa Going Licensed?)
The move could provide operators with a technology that has the reliability of NB-IoT but is more suitable for a range of low-cost applications.
Currently, however, there are some major barriers to this development, says Orange (NYSE: FTE).
"From a purely technical point of view, nothing would prevent LoRa from being run on licensed spectrum bands," an Orange spokesperson tells Light Reading. "But practically the RF [radio frequency] components of the current LoRa gateways and devices on the market are widely not compatible with the licensed bands."
Regulation would be a further hindrance, according to Orange, because authorities do not regard LoRa as an IMT (International Mobile Telecommunication) technology.
"The licensed frequency bands are regulated for IMT technologies at an international level by the ITU-R [a part of the International Telecommunications Union] and at European level by CEPT [European Conference of Postal and Telecommunications Administrations]," says Orange's spokesperson. "Even if the European spectrum regulation framework has introduced the service neutrality concept, the CEPT and ITU-R spectrum regulation frameworks do not allow the deployment of LoRa technology in licensed spectrum bands."
During a previous conversation with Light Reading, a spokesperson for the LoRa Alliance predicted that LoRa will eventually be deployed in licensed spectrum, while acknowledging that current spectrum regulations would prohibit this move.
Orange says it is fully aware of the "pros and cons" of using unlicensed bands and that LoRa currently provides "a complementary solution to the mobile IoT technologies deployed in licensed frequency bands."
The operator is also investing in 3GPP technologies designed for IoT services but is eager to address existing demand that cannot be met economically using mainstream 2G, 3G and 4G network technologies.
The strategy marks something of a contrast with that of Vodafone Group plc (NYSE: VOD), which has spurned LoRa and Sigfox and given its full support to NB-IoT.
As device connections continue to grow on LoRa networks, the UK-based operator is under some pressure to launch NB-IoT services as quickly as possible.
— Iain Morris, , News Editor, Light Reading