IoT start-up rides LoRa with $7M funding for OEM

Article By : Rick Merritt

TrackNet plans to produce hybrid LoRa/Wi-Fi routers and as many as seven sensors by June.

Start-up TrackNet will ride LoRa and Wi-Fi networks to bring the Internet of Things to consumers and businesses this year after snagging $7 million in A-series funding from two investors who will help it build and deploy routers and sensors.

By June, the start-up aims to be in production with hybrid LoRa/Wi-Fi routers and as many as seven sensors, the first products launching at Mobile World Congress next month. They will include wearable location monitors, motion sensors for security and environmental monitors for temperature and humidity.

TrackNet targets both the smart home and commercial users tracking assets and monitoring buildings. It aims to bring relatively expensive LoRa sensors down to the $20-30 retail prices of today’s home automation products.

One investor, Gemtek, already makes routers for top name brands and will help the start-up tap into its supply chain. The other, Minnol Zenner Group, is a top 10 supplier of smart meters which mainly use proprietary 900MHz links or, in Europe, the Wireless MBus standard.

Companies are considering LoRa as a lower cost, easier to deploy alternative, said Hardy Schmidbauer, chief executive and co-founder of TrackNet and part of the early LoRa team at Semtech. The start-up will have plenty of competition with multiple IoT networks and OEMs on the rise.

“All the major OEMs from Foxconn and Flextronics to Gemtek have major programs with various sources underway for LoRa hardware,” said Schmidbauer.

Plans for as many as 30 national LoRa networks have been announced from many Asia operators and virtually all those in Europe except for Telefonica and Vodaphone, he said. In the U.S. Comcast recently announced it will support Lora and China has shown interest, he added.

Rival Sigfox is said to have 7-10 million nodes deployed and at least as many announced networks, market researchers say. Another rival, Ingenu, is not far behind with a network promising higher data rates, and many proprietary alternatives also are active.

The unlicensed players face emerging competition from cellular operators also starting field trials of LTE Cat M networks. Schmidbauer dismissed the cellular IoT alternatives as aimed at other applications where data rates and power consumption are both higher.

The 10-person start-up includes a handful of engineers, some from IBM, who developed the LoRa spec.

“When I joined Semtech, I moved to Switzerland where they are based and worked with them on the definition of LoRa and had a lot of respect for their expertise. They got frustrated with some of IBM’s directions and were looking to start a new company,” said Schmidbauer.

“We expect significant growth in the LPWAN market over the next few years and want to align our products and investments to capitalise on this growth,” said Howard Chen, chief executive of Gemtek, in a press statement.

“We plan to utilise TrackNet solutions to transform our metering business and enable new business models,” said Alexander Lehmann, chief executive of Minol Zenner Group, in the statement.

This article first appeared on EE Times U.S.

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