Squaring up on specs
Besides already having the advantage of "openness," Weightless also matches up well against its LPWA rivals from a technology perspective, says Webb. Weightless-N, which was developed with Nwave, is an ultra-narrowband technology not dissimilar to Sigfox, he reckons. "It's one way and very simple," he says. "It's hard to have any kind of quality of service, and you cannot do software updates or any kind of controlled application, but it is very useful for a subset of devices."
Meanwhile, Weightless-P, a product of the collaboration with M2COMM, is likened by Webb to both LoRa and NB-IoT in terms of uplink and downlink capability. "It's a more feature-rich two-way system and so in the short run the devices will be more expensive," he says. "In the long run, chipset prices tend to be more dependent on quantity than features, which means the [price] difference may disappear."
As in its early white-space days, the Weightless ambition is to drive chipset costs down to less than $2 per unit while ensuring the technology can also support a battery life of ten years and provide "ubiquitous coverage." For Webb, that broadly means not having to deploy "too many basestations" over a distance of about three or four kilometers. A further requirement is for global connectivity, explaining why Weightless standards have been written to work on spectrum spanning the 700MHz to 1GHz frequency bands. "It's a bit piecemeal around the world, unfortunately," says Webb. "When it comes to what manufacturers will be able to do cost effectively, the proof will be in the pudding."
Despite some apparent antipathy in the cellular industry to existing LPWA options, Webb sees mobile operators and other ecosystem players warming to the single-chip vision. Quite obviously, it will give IoT companies a flexibility they would otherwise lack and allow service providers to hedge their spectrum bets. Moreover, similarities between Weightless and NB-IoT could make collaboration between the different groups relatively straightforward. According to Webb, Weightless-P offers the same bandwidth as NB-IoT, operates in the same frequency range and is comparable in terms of energy efficiency. (See Vodafone to 'Crush' LoRa, Sigfox With NB-IoT.)
If all goes as Webb hopes, and the role of Weightless becomes clear by the end of this year, silicon vendors are likely to become involved at that stage. Potentially, chips that can be shipped in volume could be ready by the end of 2017, although this seems optimistic. "That's the best we can hope for and there are plenty of things that could make that slip," acknowledges Webb.
Not everyone is convinced by the single-chip vision. During a panel session featuring Webb at the recent Smart IoT London event, Matt Hatton, the CEO of analyst firm Machina Research, expressed doubts based on the sheer diversity of IoT requirements. Webb takes that on board but insists that necessary compromises will produce a technology that meets a broad range of needs, even if these force some players to rein in a few ambitions. Being able to demonstrate support for its initiative from some big hitters would clearly help Weightless to win over the skeptics. (See IoT Will Have iPhone Moment – Weightless CEO.)
— Iain Morris, , News Editor, Light Reading