Smart Cities

Senet Virtualizes Worldwide IoT Network

Senet has successfully deployed the largest low-power wide-area network (LoRaWAN) in North America, and with its coverage of 225 markets, about 100,000 square miles and 50 million people, that's no small feat. Yet CEO Bruce Chatterley calls what Senet's created to date "a good starter network." And that's because the company's ambitions extend much, much farther.

Announced today, Senet is launching a Global Low Power Wide Area Virtual Network (LVN). The LVN is a cloud-based operating system for connecting LoRaWAN networks everywhere and building out new services on top.

When Chatterley talks about the LVN as a network, he doesn't mean network in the sense that Senet has gone out and deployed physical infrastructure everywhere. Instead, you can think of it as more of a giant, overarching operations and billing support system (OSS/BSS). The way it's set up, other network providers, device makers and application developers can connect to the system and create their own business models for IoT services. That might mean that a retailer of parking meter sensors, for example, uses the LVN to connect to Senet's physical LoRaWAN network and pays a monthly per-device fee. Or it might mean that a municipality deploys its own LoRaWAN gateways across public rights-of-way and uses the LVN to manage IoT connectivity and possibly incoming fees for services that help to recoup costs or generate revenue.

Or it might mean that a network operator with its own regional LoRaWAN network connects to the LVN to expand outward and offer IoT services that span not only the operator's own footprint, but also areas where other providers have existing LoRaWAN infrastructure.

The potential implications of Senet's virtual LoRaWAN network are far-reaching. Senet is making an IoT land grab, but doing so in a way that opens up a LoRaWAN marketplace for the development of brand new applications and creates rapid scale for IoT infrastructure that barely even existed a few years ago.

"A question we often get is how do you manage the quality of these gateways when anyone can put one on and register it to the network," says CEO Chatterley, referring to the LoRa gateways that connect to Senet's virtual network. Given that Senet is putting itself in the business of managing these devices, QoS becomes an important issue.

"And the answer is that when you register a gateway, you have to register it as one of a couple different categories. So you're either a carrier-grade, or you're a second grade below that, or you're consumer-grade," Chatterley explains. "And if you register it as any one of those three, we will actually monitor those gateways for quality of service. And the reason that's important is how you register those gateways in terms of quality determines your share of revenue."

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Revenue share is another big piece of the LVN puzzle. The promise of the virtual network is that, at least in theory, it can open up new connectivity business opportunities for anyone with local infrastructure. This includes companies already in the telecom industry like cable operators with their last-mile HFC networks. In fact, Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK) has already latched on to this idea and is building out a LoRa footprint in 15 cities by attaching gateways to its existing cable plant. (See Comcast Accelerates Into 15 IoT Markets.)

Another example Chatterley cites is cellular tower companies.

"We're going to be working with a couple of those," says Chatterley, "where they're interested in investing in the gateways, putting them on their towers, which leverages the power and Internet connectivity they have already, and so essentially that becomes a node of the Senet LVN network, and as anyone who wants to connect to that [node] connects, [the tower companies] generate revenue."

But the LVN also makes opportunities available to other organizations that might not typically be in the connectivity business -- water utility companies with local water towers, for instance, or billboard companies.

"There are many companies around the world, and in North America in particular, that own assets that are essentially billboards or signs," says Chatterley. "Turns out that most of those billboards, they all have power, and most of them have Internet connectivity. And so there's a model there where they can place these gateways on top of their billboard, their very small footprint, and they do the same thing as ... the cellular tower manufacturer."

There is also a massive smart city opportunity with the LVN. Suddenly municipalities have a chance to control some of their local connectivity infrastructure without the need to become a full-fledged telecom service provider. A community can buy or contract with an entity to deploy LoRa gateways on local physical assets like municipal buildings or street lights and then outsource the management of those gateways to Senet. Senet will even help communities with network architecture, consulting on power and connectivity backhaul requirements.

While Senet is only just announcing its LoRa-based virtual network today, Chatterley says partnership news will follow quickly. He expects to have new application and local infrastructure partners to announce within the next few months, and Senet is aiming to have a service provider partnership teed up in the same time period. If all of that happens, it's not a big leap to guess that Senet's virtual IoT network could grow exponentially from there.

— Mari Silbey, Senior Editor, Cable/Video, Light Reading

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