Vodafone NZ, Spark step up IoT push

04 Jul 2017

New Zealand telecoms operators are entering the race for IoT, with Vodafone and Spark both announcing they will soon roll out IoT networks in the country using low-power, wide-area networking (LPWAN) technologies.

Following initial tests with technology partner Nokia last September, Vodafone NZ said it will deploy a narrowband-IoT (NB-IoT) network early next year to support an expected surge in IoT applications over the coming years.

Vodafone NZ will pilot the technology with a select group of business customers - including transport technology services company EROAD - during late 2017, before a rollout in early 2018.

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, flexible life cycle, up to 15 years in some cases.

“There are many IoT networks available now but we think NB-IoT is a premium technology choice that is worth waiting for,” said Vodafone technology director Tony Baird. “It is supported by over 40 of the world’s largest mobile operators plus many more suppliers and innovators that serve the majority of the global IoT market.”

Vodafone NZ currently has more than 1.4 million connected devices operating across its 2G network in the country. The NB-IoT deployment is an evolution of this network, so it can support tens of millions more devices in future, Baird noted.

On a similar move, incumbent carrier Spark (formerly known as Telecom New Zealand) said it has partnered with Actility and Kordia on designing and building a separate IoT network based on the LoRa (Low Range) standard.

“A significant proportion” of the network is expected to be operational by June 2018, enabling sensors and devices to be connected over the LoRa network nationwide, with broad coverage at an affordable price point, Spark said in a statement.

Michael Stribling, Spark’s general manager for IoT, said the company is also advancing plans to deploy mobile network-based IoT networks (LTE-M1 and Narrow-Band LTE).

“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. In 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,” the executive said.

Spark has already involved in the “Connected Farms” trial with Farmlands, NIWA and Ballance Agri-Nutrients, as well as device partners to roll-out pilot IoT capabilities on farm in the Waikato. 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.

Both Vodafone NZ’s and Spark’s IoT announcements come in the wake of a New Zealand IoT Alliance report predicting that New Zealand could reap NZ$2.2 billion ($1.6 billion) of economic benefits over ten years from the application of the IoT across key sectors of the economy.

That report aligns with IDC predictions that New Zealand will be APAC’s third most mature market in terms of IoT units per capita by 2020 – naming the agricultural sector as a key growth driver.

“IoT is approaching a tipping point and it’s starting to transform the way we live our lives and run our businesses," Baird said.

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