Weightless Aims to Exert Gravitational IoT Pull

Imagine if there were a single low-cost chip you could include in any device requiring low-power, wide-area (LPWA) connectivity, on either licensed or unlicensed spectrum, anywhere in the world.

William Webb says it would be an "iPhone moment" for the Internet of Things (IoT), suggesting it could be the catalyst for an IoT boom. He soon hopes to make this vision a reality through the Weightless Special Interest Group, a UK-based not-for-profit standards body he leads. By working with the 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP) , a cellular specifications group, Weightless hopes to unite its own unlicensed-spectrum technology with the forthcoming NB-IoT cellular standard in this single chip.

"By the end of this calendar year I'd like it to be clear that Weightless is where this single chip will arise," he tells Light Reading. "In the next few weeks there will hopefully be quite significant announcements from some major players that have joined Weightless."

Created in 2012, Weightless had originally set out to develop an open standard based on the "white space" technology of Neul Ltd. , a UK company that counted Webb as a founder and the chief technology officer. Hit by a lack of progress on the release of white space -- spectrum that sits between bands used for broadcasting -- those efforts largely failed to bear fruit, however. With Webb as CEO, Weightless subsequently parted company with Neul, which is today owned by Chinese network equipment giant Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd. , and turned its attention elsewhere.

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What followed were tie-ups with Nwave and M2COMM -- technology players from the UK and Taiwan, respectively -- that led to the development of two new LPWA technologies: Weightless-N and Weightless-P. It is these technologies that Webb expects to make up the "unlicensed" bit of the all-encompassing IoT chip.

Perhaps partly on account of its white-space misadventure, Weightless has made far less progress in the LPWA market than players such as Ingenu , Sigfox and the LoRa Alliance , all of which claim to be deploying networks internationally. Indeed, a spokesperson for the LoRa Alliance is keen to point out that Weightless "has not been picked up by the industry" and that chip designer ARM Ltd. , one of two chief Weightless backers alongside systems integrator Accenture , has now joined the LoRa Alliance. "That will be the end of Weightless," he says. (See Ingenu Races Sigfox for US IoT Network Firsts, Altice, Sigfox Join Forces in French IoT Battle and Orange Hails LoRa Breakthrough as Bouygues Ups IoT Game.)

Webb nonchalantly puts ARM's infidelity down to the normal company practice of backing more than one horse. Nor is he especially perturbed by his organization's perceived lag, believing the "proprietary" technologies developed by those other players will have to morph into open standards or perish. "If you look back at the history of wireless communications there aren't any successful proprietary technologies," he says. "People don't want to be locked into a single source of supply."

While San Diego-based Ingenu does not deny its technology is proprietary, arguing its control of intellectual property works to the benefit of customers, both Sigfox and the LoRa Alliance do. Sigfox, a French company, insists that its technology is made freely available to chipmakers. Yet service providers using Sigfox must pay hefty licensing fees. The LoRa Alliance, meanwhile, boasts a thriving ecosystem, but its intellectual property is owned entirely by Semtech Corp. (Nasdaq: SMTC), a chipmaker based in California. (See Ingenu Revs Up IoT Rhetoric, LoRa Alliance Defends Tech Against Sigfox Slur and Sigfox Plans Global IoT Network

Next page: Squaring up on specs

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