LoRaWAN network provider Senet said this week that it has expanded its relationship with the Helium network, a distributed peer-to-peer LoRaWAN network. Senet had started letting its customers roam onto the Helium network in September of last year, but with this move Senet has expanded the deal to include Helium’s global hotspots. And that means Senet customers can roam onto Helium’s network anywhere in the world.
Amid the bankruptcy of Sigfox and the creation of an alternative Low-Power Wide-Area Network (LPWAN) with Amazon’s Sidewalk, Senet has been plugging away, trying to build out a viable LPWAN business connecting IoT devices at prices that make sense. Helium has become a valuable part of that effort.
Many of Senet’s customers are water or municipal utilities. They either hire Senet to build out a network locally and operate it themselves, or hire it to build out a network locally and let Senet operate it and sell it back to the utility as a service. If the utility operates the network itself, it will often also use the Senet network for other smart city use cases.
If Senet provides the network as a service, it also opens up that network to other clients, effectively building out an IoT network financed by customers. Since many IoT devices benefit from cheap connectivity costs, spreading the costs of a network across multiple customers and reducing the capital costs associated with building out that network are essential.
Helium’s big business break came when it built out a low-cost IoT network by incentivizing consumers to buy and operate LoRaWAN hotspots in their homes and businesses in exchange for Helium Network Tokens (HNTs), a cryptocurrency generated by providing proof of network coverage. So far, Helium has seen the network expand to almost 750,000 hotspots, providing a pretty large swath of coverage.
But the Helium network is consumer-grade, and doesn’t have the service-level agreements related to availability and uptime that some business customers require. That’s where Senet steps in. Bruce Chatterley, the CEO of Senet, told me that his network uses the Helium network as a way to get customers onto a LoRaWAN network quickly, as needed, before Senet builds out a “carrier-class” network, as well as to densify existing network coverage.
In New York City, for example, where Senet operates a LoRaWAN network designed to track food trucks in the city’s five boroughs, adding the Helium network enabled 25% more devices to come online. In addition to roaming, fast coverage, and density, the Helium network lets Senet see areas where it should build a carrier-class network overlay.
For example, if a shipping center adopts LoRaWAN sensors in a small town using Helium’s network, Senet can see the traffic and then come in to build a more reliable network that it can offer to the shipper. This ensures that Senet’s capital expenditures are allocated in places where demand already exists.
Chatterley also said that Senet handles the buying of data credits on the Helium network for its clients, and that Senet doesn’t directly pass along those charges to its clients. Thus, with these deals Senet has become what is likely a significant consumer of data credits on the Helium network. And for those wondering, Chatterley told me that, for now, he doesn’t pay much attention to the price of HNTs, although that may change because Senet plans to start hosting hotspots in places where it builds out coverage. He expects HNTs and the value of those tokens to help defray some of the costs associated with building the network, but not contribute meaningfully to revenue.
Outside of the Helium deal, Chatterley sees the market for LoRaWAN connectivity expanding as it becomes more apparent that LoRaWAN is an open, available standard that’s reliable and no longer tied solely to a single chip provider.
A few months back, Senet signed an agreement to start providing satellite coverage as a backup to LoRaWAN connectivity in parts of the world where there is no LoRaWAN coverage. Chatterley told me that in the coming year or two, he expects to see more companies adopt LoRaWAN as a connectivity option.
I think he’s right, but I actually think we’ll see more companies adopt other forms of LPWANs — either with Amazon’s Sidewalk or with cellular options such as NB-IoT or even LTE Cat-M — simply because the costs of connectivity and modules are coming down, while the ROI of having more information about things is going up.