So, Comcast is building an IoT network

It’s hard to tell from Comcast’s press release, but this is a really big deal in the world of IoT.

Let me see if I can help translate the corporate jargonese.

First, Comcast is building a freaking cellular network for the Internet of Things. New towers, new infrastructure, new everything. They’re going to compete directly with Verizon, AT&T, and others, to connect the next generation of billions of IoT devices.

This is on top of their wireless phone plans, (their Verizon MVNO deal + bid in the current spectrum auction). For IoT they clearly want to be independent of Verizon, and they want to be first. So they’re building a network for IoT this year.

That’s pretty cool. Also cool is that they’re using LoRaWAN as the network standard. We build LoRaWAN sensors and trackers at Beep, and I’m super-excited for our devices to work on Comcast’s network, wherever it is. LoRaWAN is an open standard on unlicensed spectrum that anyone can implement and deploy. Kinda like Wi-Fi. That kind of flexibility is unprecedented in the cellular world, and it’s awesome to see Comcast getting behind this ecosystem. Maybe their experience running a big Wi-Fi network helped them get comfortable with the idea.

A Comcast network will be great for the ecosystem. I can understand why the Fortune 500 might be nervous about deploying IoT sensors on a network built by a startup like Beep. But if the network is run by a deep-pocketed, experienced operator with field support in every market — that’s a much lower-risk proposition.

Finally, for small businesses, Comcast has a massive sales organization to help roll out new IoT services, the same way they’ve rolled out home security and small-business wi-fi. This could really accelerate IoT adoption.

Now, back to the press release. It talks about a “trial” and says they’ll commercially deploy only “if the initial trials are successful.”

Of course, it makes sense to hedge since no one really knows how well LoRa networks will work in the US — no nationwide network exists yet.

At Beep we probably have the best data on LoRa performance in urban environments (well, in San Francisco at least), and I’m highly optimistic. Senet has also been operating a LoRa network for a long time, mostly in rural areas. Outside the US you’ve also got Softbank, Orange, KPN, Swisscom, SKT, and others building LoRa networks today.

Also, if you squint and look close, you’ll see a bit more commitment from Comcast than the language suggests. As part of the deal Comcast is taking an equity stake in Semtech, maker of LoRa chips. According to SEC filings, that stake vests as they roll out across “30 markets,” which I can only assume means 30 major metropolitan areas in the US. That sounds like a plan for a nationwide deployment.

Plus, they’ve named it. It’s MachineQ. Companies kinda get attached to things with names and logos. It’s personal now.

So I’m excited to see Comcast jumping in on cellular for IoT. When we started working in this space a little over a year ago, it wasn’t obvious that the fledgling ecosystem would go anywhere. Now hundreds of companies are building devices and networks. Including big ones like Comcast.

Daniel is co-founder of Beep Networks, an enabler of easy-to-deploy long-range IoT networks and systems.

Lots more here on cellular for IoT: