How difficult is it to build an IoT network? The promise is simple – a company can connect its fleet or gadgets in its factory, for example, and have access to all its information all the time. There are a few problems: sensors need power, you need access to airwaves to get the data, and setting it all up could be a cumbersome process for your tech team.
A young Swiss startup, Loriot AG, offers a solution through the new LoRaWAN network technology, which is extremely long range (devices can be 50km from the antenna), super energy efficient and has connectivity prices as low as $1 a year.
“You can own your network and be completely independent. You don’t need to rely on the telecom operator,” co-founder Julian Studer described, giving the strongest argument for the new IoT network technology.
The young startup, which was only founded in 2015, today runs the largest LoRaWAN infrastructure worldwide, with 9 public servers across the globe and some 8,000 users. “Those servers are not our core business. They are mostly there to help customers and create interest in this technology – a way to find an easy entry point. They can go to the homepage, create the network, connect the device. It’s very easy and cheap. It is our best marketing tool,” Studer explained.
The core business for Loriot is in offering private servers. “The clients we have for this are large telecom operators who have plans to cover nationwide areas with this technology,” he said.
The core knowhow of the team is in software.
“With our software, a client can create the network, add all the antennas, add all the sensors and create accounts for customers. We take care of the hardware management and the transport of data sent by the sensors: the data’s transport, encryption and security. Once the data arrives at the server, the client has complete flexibility to forward the data to any third-party server, such as Microsoft Azure.”
Microsoft’s engineering team has helped Loriot with its Azure integrations, but Studer says the close relationship has also helped business for both companies. “We know our clients’ needs and what we cannot offer: the applications, data etc. We know that Microsoft can offer those things and that they do them in a highly professional way, so we like to forward our clients on to Microsoft. On the other side, Microsoft has clients working with Azure who are requesting to work with LoRaWAN IoT technology. Microsoft points those clients to our solution, because they know that we are one of the most reliable solutions in the market,” Studer said.
In October, Loriot’s integration specialist spent one week in a Microsoft office with 4-5 engineers, working together with them to improve Loriot’s Azure integration. Loriot also has integrations in place with Azure’s rivals so that they can serve clients who keep their data on other platforms.
The future for Loriot is extremely interesting. This new market has relatively limited competition, with only 10 companies offering something like Loriot. Of these, the firm counts just two who offer a similar, high-end platform service that could be used by telecom operators or big cities. Studer sees the biggest usage area for LoRaWAN technology in metering and agriculture sectors, but he also underlined its potential to become the data platform for smart cities.
“Smart city is a big thing. Smart cities can become truly independent, they can create their own networks and dramatically improve the quality of urban services.”
To best benefit from market growth, Loriot is raising more funding. So far it has brought in just one angel investor. “We have been self-funding, more or less – we are growing organically. We are growing above average in the startup business side, but we are still understaffed on the business and technical sides. The market is really exploding and there is so much demand in the market. We have so much knowhow we would like to realise, but we don’t have the manpower,” Studer said. The plan is to double their staff numbers in the next 12 months to bring them up to 30 people.
“Every kind of investor has its pros and cons – the question is always how much can they bring. I am not speaking of cash liquidity, but about how much know-how, how much business, and how much help they can bring. Also, how much are they going to control you? How much do you need to deliver information to them? We are looking for an investor that can also be a great partner for us to achieve our vision to enable IoT in every corner of the globe and thus transform production processes and people lives for the better.