LPWA IoT gains traction

17 Jan 2018

2017 was a banner year for the IoT, especially for LPWA (Low Power, Wide Area) technologies including NB-IoT and LTE-M.

According to the GSMA, the deployment of LPWA solutions started to gain traction with recent developments by some leading operators including AT&T, China Mobile, China Unicom, China Telecom, Deutsche Telekom (DT), Verizon, and Vodafone. By end-November there were 28 commercial LPWA networks on licensed spectrum, a number expected to reach 35 by February in 2018.

China to lead LPWA deployments

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In Asia, mobile operators are stepping up their efforts to deploy IoT networks using LPWA, especially the emerging NB-IoT technology.

China is set to be one of the leading LPWA markets, accounting for 486 million of the estimated 3.1 billion connections globally by 2025, according to research firm Gartner. It also features in the global development of cellular IoT in terms of both network launches and ecosystem developer partners.

The country’s three major operators have use LPWA technologies to deliver commercial solutions in licensed spectrum to accelerate adoption and transform the development of the IoT in areas such as agriculture, automotive, and utilities. China Mobile launched NB-IoT networks in several key cities while China Unicom introduced NB-IoT networks in Shanghai as well as Guangzhou, Shenzhen, and Fuzhou-uses include smart parking, smart fire sensors, and smart meters. China Telecom also announced the roll-out of nationwide NB-IoT networks.

M2M connections

The deployment of LPWA is expected to drive the country’s IoT/M2M connection to exceed one billion connections by 2020, according to a new report released by GSMA Intelligence and the China Academy of Information and Communications Technology (CAICT).

China is now the world’s largest M2M market with approximately 100 million cellular M2M connections, a figure that is expected to increase to 350 million by 2020. An additional 730 million connections will be enabled by LPWA technology, taking the total figure to just over one billion. By 2025, 50% of the world’s 28 billion connected devices will be suitable for connection by LPWA networks.

“With government support, China has quickly become the world’s largest M2M market,” says Alex Sinclair, CTO, GSMA. “LPWA will play a fundamental part of its future growth.”

S’pore, NZ cellcos join NB-IoT bandwagon

In Singapore, M1 recently launched what it says is Southeast Asia’s first commercial nationwide NB-IoT network. M1 and its partners are using the network to make available IoT solutions in fields including smart energy management for buildings, environmental monitoring, asset tracking, and fleet management.

Singtel announced plans to roll out a nationwide cellular IoT network supporting both CAT-1 and NB-IoT by end September. Singtel will use its cybersecurity operations to support businesses in deploying secure IoT solutions, and plans to invite business and technology partners to develop and test IoT solutions at its joint IoT Innovation Lab operated with Ericsson.

Vodafone New Zealand and incumbent carrier Spark (formerly known as Telecom New Zealand) both announced plans to roll out IoT networks in the country using LPWA technologies.

Vodafone NZ says it will deploy NB-IoT networks early next year to support the expected surge in IoT applications. The operator will pilot the technology with a select group of business customers-including transport technology services company EROAD-during late 2017 before widespread deployment in early 2018.

“There are many IoT networks available now but we think NB-IoT is a premium technology choice,” says Vodafone technology director Tony Baird. The operator has over 1.4 million connected devices operating across its 2G network in the country and the NB-IoT deployment is an evolution of this network which can support millions of additional devices, says Baird.

On a similar move, Spark has partnered with Actility and Kordia on designing and building a separate IoT network based on the LoRa (Low Range) standard, with a significant proportion” of the network expected to be operational by June 2018. Michael Stribling, Spark’s general manager for IoT, says the company is also advancing plans to deploy mobile network-based IoT networks using LTE-M1 and NB-IoT standards.

“We believe that there are different use-cases emerging for different IoT networks, depending on the level and type of data that needs to be transmitted by IoT devices,” says Stribling. “By making an investment in LoRa, in addition to its LTE investments, Spark believes it will be in position to provide the broadest set of IoT solutions to its customers.”

Spark is involved in the “Connected Farms” trial with Farmlands, NIWA and Ballance Agri-Nutrients. The trial, which launched in April, is a new concept for farm digital services which aimed to demonstrate new levels of connectivity for farmers enabled by smart sensor technologies.

Sidebar: Demystifying IoT standards

IoT can be divided into short-range and wide-area segments. The former is typically enabled by unlicensed radio technologies, such as Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and ZigBee. The latter consists of devices powered by M2M cellular and LPWA technologies such as NB-IoT, LTE-M, Sigfox, and LoRa.

LPWA networks are designed for M2M applications that have low data rates, require long battery lives and operate unattended for long periods of time, often in remote locations. Driven by the GSMA Mobile IoT Initiative and the 3GPP standards, three complementary technologies-Narrow Band IoT (NB-IoT), EC-GSM-IOT, and LTE Machine Type Communication (LTE-MTC)-cover all LPWA use-cases.

NB-IoT uses dedicated bandwidth and licensed spectrum to deliver secure coverage across vast geographical areas. The 3GPP standard is designed to support a new wave of IoT devices-such as field and waterway sensors-that transmit small amounts of data but have a long lifecycle.

Licensed LPWA networks complement and extend conventional wide area networks. They also allow operators to optimize their existing mobile network infrastructure through an upgrade to EC-GSM-IoT for 2G networks and LTE-MTC for LTE networks.

According to ABI Research, emerging M2M cellular and LPWAN technologies pose challenges to the Wi-Fi/Bluetooth/ZigBee triumvirate. The new competition targets transportation and logistics, utilities and energy management, smart cities and smart buildings, industrial automation, and smart agriculture markets.

“LPWAN technologies including RPMA, Sigfox, LoRa, LTE Cat-M1, NB-IoT, and EC-GSM-IoT comprise a competitive and rapidly evolving IoT connectivity landscape,” says Andrew Zignani, senior analyst at ABI Research. “These technologies are specifically designed for IoT and suited to outdoor, large-scale IoT applications because they target greater coverage areas, offer ease of deployment, and scale more easily.”

Zignani says that short-range wireless connectivity solutions-Wi-Fi/Bluetooth/ZigBee-are created for computing and consumer applications but increasingly extend to IoT verticals as well.

This article first appeared on Telecom Asia December 2017 / January 2018

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