On our latest IoT Podcast episode, we take a question that Adam left on our IoT Voicemail hotline. Adam was thinking that the wireless spectrum used by Amazon Sidewalk and other decentralized LoRaWAN networks might be useful for communications. Specifically, the long-range networks could provide messaging or text services to areas with little or no cellular coverage. I agree with Adam, as I suggested the same use case not long after Amazon announced Sidewalk back in 2019.
But it’s now 2022 and consumers still can’t use Sidewalk, or really any other LoRaWAN service in lieu of traditional instant messaging or SMS purposes. And there are some good reasons for this.
First, the target audience for communication over Sidewalk, Helium, or another LoRaWAN implementation is relatively small. At least here in the U.S., it is since a majority of the population has cellular coverage.
Yes, there are still “holes” in the cellular network coverage areas, but they don’t impact most people. In other regions or countries, it might be a different story. But as Stacey notes in our podcast, the denser population areas in those places are the ones that have cellular coverage.
The second reason is a business one that largely follows the first. Is there a viable business model to offer person-to-person LoRaWAN communications and be profitable? A few companies have tried with unlicensed or non-cellular network technologies. And they’ve either pivoted away from that goal or aren’t around any longer.
For example, there have been peer-to-peer mesh networking apps for messaging in the earlier days of Android, like Serval. Some of these were used when governments in the Middle East and Africa shut down internet access. Each phone with the Serval app crates a large mesh network for communication within that mesh network. And if any of those phones have internet access, messages can be routed out around the world.
Commotion Wireless is another, similar example but it’s more of a DIY solution. However, these solutions use traditional Bluetooth and/or Wi-Fi, not any long-range radio protocols. Rumble is an Android messaging app that uses these radios too, although when I last checked, its server was down. You can view the Rumble source code on Github, however. Orion Labs attempted to create a push-to-talk solution using non-traditional networks but at this point, the company focuses on using the cloud for such communications.
For now, then, it doesn’t appear we’ll be using these newer long-range networks for emergency or distributed communications. The business model challenge and limited demand don’t make it a viable option.
To hear Adam’s question, as well as our discussion in full on the topic, tune in to the IoT Podcast below: