FROM THE BLOG

One IoT Technology Responds To A Geolocation Dilemma

In a book I’ve read aloud at least 500 times called the Pig’s Picnic, a pig (Mr. Pig) wants to look his best when he asks Miss Pig to join him for a picnic. So after obsessing about which bow tie to wear, he takes advice from his friends Lion, Fox, and Zebra and borrows something special from each of them. A foxy tail from Fox. A beautiful head of hair from Lion. And stripes from Zebra. Newly outfitted with delusions of hotness, Mr. Pig shows up at Miss Pig’s doorstep for their date. When she sees the unrecognizable creature in her doorway she squeals, threatens to call her friend Mr. Pig, and slams the door. Mr. Pig runs home, strips off his borrowed finery, and hurries back to Miss Pig’s house with open arms. To children (and those adults out there who identify as children), the moral of this story is “you’re OK just the way you are.”

So I noticed a new LPWAN geolocation project called Collos which attempts to mimic the story of Mr. Pig. In this case, an unattractive LPWAN stack called LoRaWAN is prepping for a big date with a huge slice of the mobile IoT marketplace called geolocation. But LoRaWAN for battery powered devices is unidirectional, poorly architected throughout, won’t support GNSS/GPS, and was never meant for this kind of action. Reminds me of:

But the mobile LPWAN market is big, so last year we saw LoRaWANers pushing a time-based trilateration technique to fake geolocation and geofencing. And as I’ve written before, this by itself is a lot like Mr. Pig pretending to be someone he’s not.

So this year we apparently get Collos which doubles down on LoRaWAN and recommends adding multiple additional radios to “build on” LoRaWAN’s geolocation prowess. Yes, additional radios. In 2018. Welcome to the future.

Here’s a peek at the craziness:

In this case Collos recommends developers use LoRaWAN for pet tracking — a dicey proposition by itself since battery-powered LoRaWAN is a really bad pick for mobile use cases. But to compensate for its weaknesses, Collos recommends adding WiFi and Bluetooth radios, which raise device costs and accelerate battery drain, particularly in the case of WiFi. And neither of these is exactly long range.

For example, there this sequence for finding your lost pet:

First, GPS on a unidirectional LPWAN device with no ability to receive A-GPS ephemeris data means a cold start of several minutes for each acquisition of GPS coordinates. I’ve already discussed this, but basically GPS should never appear in the same paragraph as battery powered LoRaWAN unless you think of battery life in terms of days. Then, we’re asked to lean on WiFi — yes, WiFi — to solve for LoRaWAN’s lack of bi-directionality. If there are no WiFi access points near or accessible to your lost dog, this feature is useless. But do not despair! Collos recommends adding the renown industry standard for wide area geolocation better known as Bluetooth. If you haven’t heard, Bluetooth is making headlines in the world of wide area geolocation.

So here’s what Collos is pitching us, I think: this unidirectional IoT stack called LoRaWAN is an unattractive option for battery powered geolocation, so to help us put a bit of lipstick on LoRaWAN, please add two additional short range radios so we can appear marginally less unattractive.

Clearly the LoRaWAN community is struggling to provide a sound response to the demand for geolocation for mobile, battery powered endpoints. GNSS/GPS is just really hard to do on battery powered LPWAN’s if your stack wasn’t designed from the ground up to support bi-directional communications and multicast messaging to endpoints. Better, really, for the LoRaWAN community, which seems committed to LoRaWAN for god-knows-what-reason, to have the courage to say that it is “just OK the way it is” for simple fixed use cases like water meters rather than continue to contort itself to be something it was never meant to be. That is to say, geolocation for mobile LPWAN’s will be handled by another stack (or stacks), but it won’t be LoRaWAN.

Two notes:

  1. Collos is sponsored by Semtech, the makers of the LoRa LPWAN radio my company, Haystack, currently endorses.
  2. In fairness, Collos provides this disclaimer:

 

 

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