NB-IoT gathers momentum

Trials in Australia and the UK involving Ericsson and Vodafone indicate the NB-IoT is starting to become a reality.

Ericsson and Telstra are claiming the longest connection for the narrowband wireless standard that is set to be the default for IoT. The trial used a Telstra base station to communicate with an NB-IoT temperature sensor 94 km away on Mount Cenn Cruaich in New South Wales, Australia. They say the previous range limit was more like 40 km.

“We’re partnering with Telstra to deliver its customers a world-leading capability in NB-IoT extended range cells and demonstrating the huge opportunity that IoT represents in rural and regional areas for both Australia and globally, particularly for logistics and agriculture,” said Emilio Romeo, Ericsson’s MD for Australia and New Zealand.

“Telstra already had Australia’s largest IoT coverage with Cat M1 across our 4G metro, regional and rural coverage footprint,” said Channa Seneviratne, Telstra’s Executive Director of Network and Infrastructure Engineering. “With this NB-IoT extended range feature, we have now extended our coverage to more than three and a half million square kilometers, delivering our customers the best IoT coverage and capability in the country.”

Meanwhile Vodafone has started trialling NB-IoT in the UK, as reported by Light Reading. Energy company Scottish Power is Vodafone’s first UK NB-IoT customer and is using IoT temperature sensors to detect when some of its remote kit might be overheating. They’re apparently powered by standard AA batteries and each one costs a couple of quid.

Lastly Counterpoint Research has found that global cellular IoT connections grew by 72% in the first half of this year and forecasted NB-IoT will account for around half of all IoT connections in the long term. As you can see from the charts below most of the action seems to be happening in China, but Vodafone is leading the international effort.

Counterpoint IoT 1

Counterpoint IoT 2

“Emerging markets like India, Brazil and in Africa while can offer tremendous scale but will likely be late followers compared to China in this path to connected everything,” said Satyajit Sinha of Counterpoint. “However, the massive growth opportunity remains in terms of cellular-IoT connections in emerging markets which will be possibly catalysed by operators such as Jio in India but more specifically from multi-market players such as Telefónica, MTN or Vodafone with plans to deploy LPWAN networks such as NB-IoT leveraging scale across their coverage markets.”

“Revenue generation from the IoT ecosystem is not siloed to any one specific segment of the value chain, rather it is distributed among all segments,” said Neil Shah of Counterpoint. “On an average for a cellular IoT solution deployment, connectivity represents around 12%, whereas hardware components, modules and devices represent 22%.

“The rest of the bulk of the value in an IoT solution is captured by system integrators, middleware, software platforms, and cloud analytics vendors. Hence, if operators are looking to capture maximum value, the strategies need to provide an end-to-end IoT solutions by bundling IoT devices, secure connectivity, platform, and data management to capitalize on the overall opportunity.”

The big variable with IoT, of course, is revenue. It doesn’t look too tough to scatter billions of sensors all over the place and connect them to the cloud via NB-IoT or whatever, but getting companies to pay for services on the back of them is another matter. It looks like a lot of the commercial precedent will be set in China, so the rest of the world might wait to see how that plays out before committing.

ABI smart city warning tells all too familiar sluggish telco tale

ABI Research has warned MNOs might miss out on the $7.6 billion ‘UnTelco’ revenue opportunity if it waits for the 5G euphoria to kick in.

It’s a story which we have heard before, though the telcos run the risk of missing out on a future craze of the digital economy by doing very little. Although it might seem a long-way off, there will certainly be an opportunity to make money in the smart city segment, as well as a chance to banish the dreaded utility tag.

“Smart cities is a huge and complex market, where a traditional vertical focus is now co-existing with a cross-vertical trend that is gaining momentum,” said Pablo Tomasi of ABI Research. “The size of the market, with all its different sub-verticals, means that MSPs [Mobile Service Providers] can target and assume various roles from system integrators to platform providers.

“While the opportunity is huge, competition is mounting, as proven by network vendors’ aggressive activities in the platform space. MSPs need to balance coopetition and prioritize innovative business models, for instance, based on advertising or performance-based revenues, rather than waiting and fostering the marketing trend centred on the role and potential of 5G in smart cities.”

As Tomasi points out, there is a lot of work which can be done pre-5G to lay the foundations for monetization in the smart city era. There are a couple of companies preparing themselves, Verizon has a smart city strategy focused on M&A after purchasing Sensity System and LQD, while Deutsche Telekom is leveraging aggressive NB-IoT deployments, but the industry on the whole looks sluggish. In waiting for the 5G catalyst the boat might have already been missed.

Of course this is not the first time we have heard this tale. Through inactivity and a lack of foresight, cash cow revenues of SMS and voice were destroyed by the OTTs, who also managed to take ownership of the video segment. The smart home is another which is increasingly looking like a lost opportunity as the focal point of the ecosystem shifts to the smart speaker not the router. Even the connected car is under threat as Google carves out partnerships to launch Android as the OS for a number of different automotive manufacturers.

In each of these examples, ownership of the ecosystem has been shifted elsewhere with the telcos slipping down the value chain. The risk is present again with smart cities and it might not be too long before telcos are simply known as connectivity utilities, offering few value-added services to the customer.

While there is still money to be made from being a utility, the focus is shifted towards operational efficiency as opposed to aggressive rollout of value-add services, the risk is with regulation. Should telcos be branded utilities they will fall under the heavy hand of government regulations. There might be benefits in terms of land access and pricing protections, but the telcos are determined to remain at arms-length from the flurry of red-tape and zombie-like civil servants.

As Tomasi said, there is still time to reverse these doomsday predictions, though the signs are not exactly favourable. The telcos are traditionally incredibly risk-adverse organizations which simply won’t work in the cut-throat digital economy. Companies have to be willing to adopt the fail-fast business model, which occasionally means making a bet on a segment which might not work out. Google partnering with automotive manufacturers with its Android OS is an excellent example. It might get disrupted, it might become irrelevant, or it might now have a foot through a very profitably door.

If you don’t buy a ticket, you’re never going to win the lottery.

LoRa bags Tencent as backer

Chinese internet giant Tencent is the latest company to join the LoRa Alliance, adding credibility to the technology which has perhaps been viewed as substandard to NB-IoT.

Tencent said in a statement it has been investing in LoRaWAN, most notably in building a LoRaWAN network in Shenzhen with local partners, but also in providing  device-edge-cloud LoRaWAN solutions on its network for a wide variety of IoT application and end users, such as government public services.

“It is clear that LPWANs are essential for the IoT technology and applications, and the market is quickly growing in China, especially in areas like government public services, industry manufacturing,

personal IoT devices, etc,” said Hongtao Bie, Vice President of Tencent Technologies.

“LoRaWAN has seen rapid growth, and we feel it is highly complementary to NB-IoT in the LPWAN market. Joining the LoRa Alliance will allow us to influence LoRaWAN development, advance IoT adoption, and strengthen our cloud business by building close partnerships with other LoRaWAN vendors around the world.”

The pros and cons of LoRa in comparison to Sigfox and NB-IoT have been much debated over the last few years, though it does seem NB-IoT is winning out. With the majority of telcos throwing weight behind NB-IoT, the influence of non-cellular technologies is starting to be diluted. There will of course be benefits with technologies such as LoRa, campus connectivity for unlicensed spectrum is one, but as data usage ramps up you can see why the telcos are nervous.

The danger lies with mission critical. LoRa might have a cost advantage, but without the licensed spectrum option, the telcos are justifiably tentative considering the potential damage to already battered spreadsheets. There are of course examples of telcos marrying the two technologies, Orange is producing some interesting initiatives in this area, though LoRa is not necessarily making the impact it had in mind. Maybe it is because it is a proprietary technology?

There will of course be use cases for the technology, and being able to throw around the Tencent logo as a supporter will also help.

Deutsche Telekom and Vodafone claim first European NB-IoT roaming trial

Low power IoT network technology isn’t much good if it can’t easily cross national borders, so DT and Vodafone have been looking into that with the help of the GSMA.

In fact the GSMA was the one to make the announcement, claiming the two operator groups “…have successfully completed the first international roaming trial in Europe using licensed NB-IoT technology.” NB-IoT is generally accepted to be the default LPWAN technology, for which Vodafone has been one of the most active cheerleader, so it’s no surprise to see it involved in this.

“The success of these trials is an important milestone in the development of a sustainable roaming environment for mobile IoT networks, showcasing their capabilities as well as ensuring consistent service across geographical boundaries,” said Alex Sinclair, CTO of the GSMA. “The market has matured considerably in a very short time and we anticipate that this will be the year that Mobile IoT scales. Only licensed, managed mobile services can provide the secure low power connection that can meet future demand.”

“Deutsche Telekom has successfully introduced and developed NB-IoT networks across most of its European footprint and we are very pleased to see the ecosystem rapidly expanding,” said Ingo Hofacker of DT. “First commercial offers are available on a national basis already, but now, operators need to satisfy customer demand for international coverage and service continuity as well.”

“This development shows the successful evolution of the technology and I am confident that it will lead to a raft of new applications for NB-IoT, such as the cold chain monitoring of goods across borders,” said Vodafone director of IoT Stefano Gestaut.

The trial used global SIMs from DT on Vodafone Spain’s network and global Vodafone SIMs on T-Mobile Austria’s network and commercial NB-IoT modules. The announcement somewhat redundantly stresses that NB-IoT roaming is especially important for anyone deploying LPWAN devices on a global basis. The GSMA is claiming some credit for creating a mobile IoT initiative that may or may not have played a significant role in this happening.

Ericsson continues to bang the IoT drum

Ericsson looked to capture the headlines over MWC with a big focus on IoT, and the trends have continued with two new announcements in Saudi Arabia and Greece.

Starting in the Middle East, Ericsson has bagged a new customer in STC as part of a nationwide expansion of its 4G network in Saudi Arabia, including the deployment of LTE Advanced and Narrow Band-Internet of Things (NB-IoT) in Radio Access Network.

“At STC, our main goal is to ensure that the country’s Saudi Vision 2030 ambitions are met,” said Nasser Al Nasser, Group CEO at STC. “We do that by always making sure we offer our subscribers the latest innovative technologies. LTE Advanced and NB-IoT are exactly what we need to pave the way to 5G.”

On the LTE-A side of things, the pair will deploy new 5G-ready hardware into the network to make use of STC’s newly acquired spectrum in the 700 MHz band. The claim here is that the project will increase STC network throughput in 4G by up to 50% for smartphones, though that crafty ‘up to’ metric is still there. Seems like advertisers aren’t the only one making use of the grey areas. Over for IoT, STC will be deploying NB-IoT tech in RAN across its expanded network to support smart city ambitions.

NB-IoT is also the focus of the announcement with Greek telco Cosmote. Here the pair have completed the deployment of the first cellular NB-IoT clusters in Cosmote’s network across eleven cities in Greece. The aim here is to support and develop massive Machine Type Communications (mMTC) usecases.

“Cosmote, fully recognizing the potential of massive IoT technology, is the first in Greece and one of the firsts in Europe, to trial NB-IoT and evolve its network,” said George Tsonis, OTE Group Executive Director of Network Planning & Development. “We’re poised to evolve beyond merely providing mobile broadband connectivity, to play a leading role in the rapidly developing IoT market and create through technology and innovation a better world for all.”

The IoT stance does seem to be working for Ericsson, so why change it. We noticed that the Ericsson stand was certainly very busy, perhaps even busier than its main competitors, across MWC perhaps owing to this IoT messaging. That said, it might be down to stringent access to the Huawei Village and the free lunch the Swedes were offering. Anything to avoid the dreaded and dreary beigeness of the MWC cafes.

Deutsche Telekom says it’s the best at NB-IoT atop its efficient horse

With MWC just around the corner we shouldn’t be surprised at a bit of chest beating from operators. Deutsche Telekom has stepped up to the plate saying everyone else is comparatively useless at NB-IoT.

The claim is based on DT’s current NB-IoT, which now extends to eight European countries as well as the US. While this does sound very impressive, it should be worth noting the rollout is not complete in all of these countries, but nationwide coverage should come before too long. According to DT, its European rollout in on schedule.

“Deutsche Telekom’s aim is to deliver this exciting technology across Europe and the US as quickly as possible, both by making the NB-IoT sensor network available everywhere as well as actively driving the development of innovative NB-IoT solutions,” said DT’s Ingo Hofacker.

“The extensive availability of NB-IoT network coverage in 2018 beyond the initial city-led pilots we have seen last year lays the ground for NB-IoT solutions to be deployed not only locally, but also nationally and across borders.”

Just like 4G coverage is a thing to shout about now, NB-IoT coverage will soon become one. For multinational companies who have an interest in IoT, working with a telco which can offer coverage in multiple markets will be a more attractive proposition. It cuts down on paperwork and the benefits of scale will be there. DT seems to be a typically German job on running a highly efficient rollout.

In terms of the actual progress, the nationwide rollout is complete in the Netherlands, while DT has promised nationwide coverage in other markets at some point in the opaque future. The telco does have an NB-IoT presence in an additional five European nations, as well as Germany, though details on when this would actually be a nationwide presence are unsurprisingly thin.

So DT is the best at NB-IoT because it says so, and your correspondent is going to be the tallest man in London.

T-Mobile US claims first nationwide NB-IoT plan

Disruptive US operator T-Mobile US reckons it’s turning the domestic IoT market on its head by significantly undercutting its competitors.

This is, of course, what TMUS does – undercut the competition then shove some kind of populist, Robin Hood narrative down everyone’s throat. In this case the company has gone all in on NB-IoT technology and has used it to launch an IoT plan that costs $6 per year, which it says is a tenth of the price of Verizon’s Cat-M-based plans.

“The number of connected devices already outnumbers the worldwide population, and it’s only getting bigger,” said Mike Sievert, COO of T-Mobile. “So, of course, T-Mobile is taking advantage of the latest IoT tech to make it simpler – and massively more affordable – for businesses and cities to connect things. Launching Narrowband IoT is a giant step toward 5G IoT, and naturally, T-Mobile is leading the way!”

Not quite the bombastic level of his boss, but a decent effort. The release goes on to explain how much better NB-IoT is than anything else, not least because it provides a pathway to 5G. TMUS says NB-IoT is also intrinsically more cost-effective than Cat-M.

“Because it can operate in guard bands – the network equivalent of driving down the shoulders on the highway — NB-IoT carries data with greater efficiency and performance and doesn’t compete with other data traffic for network resources,” says the press release.

This headline offering is actually a time-limited price promotion, so the comparative claims need to be taken with a pinch of salt. $6 per year is per device and caps the data at 12 MB before, presumably, further charges kick in. Also, having said how rubbish Cat-M is compared to NB-IoT, TMUS is nonetheless going to launch some Cat-M stuff too. Go figure.

TIM prepares to launch nationwide commercial NB-IoT service

Italian operator TIM says it’s the first in Italy to make its network ready for NB-IoT services, which will be offered at the end of this month.

75% of the TIM network is apparently up and running with NB-IoT technology, which is one of the more advanced flavours of narrowband wireless available. This means 5,000 municipalities will be able to live the internet of things dream in a couple of weeks.

Quite what form that will take, however, remains to be seen. It’s one thing having access to the latest narrowband tech, but what are they going to use it for? According to TIM it ‘will enable the commercial development of services starting with smart meters, which will permit not only real time monitoring of consumption and the telemanagement of gas, water and electricity transmission and distribution networks, but also district heating and environmental management.’

Smart metering seems to be quite a popular early use-case for IoT, but the business case remains unproven and for consumers they seem to solve problems most of us didn’t realise we had. But having said that we have to start somewhere and TIM seems to be doing a good job of leading the way, in Europe at least.

T-Mobile reckons its winning the US IoT race

T-Mobile US has begun the venture into new grounds, with bold plans to light up the first nationwide Narrowband-IoT (NB-IoT) network in 2018.

Seemingly not happy with the nationwide headache it as given operators in the consumer market, the magenta army has begun marching towards the promised riches of IoT. Next month, T-Mobile plans to launch (what it claims is) the first commercial NB-IoT network in Las Vegas, before rolling out across the US by mid-2018.

“The Uncarrier team is unstoppable. Not only have we built America’s best unlimited network, but this magenta army is also moving at a breakneck pace to support the future of connected devices in a 5G world,” said Neville Ray, CTO of T-Mobile. “Our IoT customers can rest well knowing their tech is future proof with the Uncarrier.”

While causing chaos in the world of unlimited data tariffs and zero rating offers might have been grabbing the attention in recent months, it’s not the only area T-Mobile has been playing around in. In July, the operator teamed up with Qualcomm and Ericsson to complete Narrowband IoT field tests on a live commercial network, using 200 KHz of T-Mobile’s AWS spectrum.

The initiative itself looks to be quite a useful one, and got the full involvement of City of Las Vegas’ innovation team as well. Use cases tested included flood and storm drainage sensors, smart city lighting solutions, and environmental monitoring, to keep a handle on temperature, humidity and environmental gases.

Back on the nationwide NB-IoT network, the first product offering from T-Mobile will be known as SyncUP Fleet, a fleet management and monitoring service to help reduce fuel consumption, maintenance issues and other costs for enterprise organizations and governments. And in all fairness, it does look pretty simple to use.

Customers plug the SyncUP Fleet device into each vehicle’s standard on-board diagnostics (OBDII) port and create their online account to get started. Through a cloud-based platform, which can be accessed through either laptop or smartphone (neat), the fleet manager gets a more birds eye view of all the assets. IoT in action.

Though the claims of a nationwide NB-IoT network are bold, it does appear the T-Mobile team believes it is a bit more suited to cover more area geographically. Executives have argued competitors such as Verizon and AT&T are too focused on the millimetre wave spectrum which isn’t as suitable for IoT, but the significant wedge of 600 MHz spectrum offers much more flexibility and breadth.

It is always sensible to take T-Mobile claims with a pinch of salt, but you can’t argue with the evidence. The last few quarters have seen T-Mobile live up to its chest-beating of bigger, better and faster, so it might be a smart bet to back the magenta army in the IoT race.

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