Midweek M2M: IoT and machine-to-machine developments

1 Mar 2017

At Mobile World Congress (MWC) in Barcelona this week, a group of nine major mobile network operators confirmed their support for the global deployment of the LTE-M IoT standard, namely: AT&T (US and Mexico), Verizon (US), KPN (Netherlands), KDDI (Japan), NTT DOCOMO (Japan), France-based Orange (Europe, Middle East and Africa), Spain-based Telefonica (Europe and Latin America), Telstra (Australia) and Telus (Canada). The supporting operators are working to ensure that LTE-M supports roaming and standards-based local service delivery so that both enterprise and customer-oriented IoT objects, such as trackers or wearables, can be designed for worldwide markets – via pilots, IoT Open Labs (for developing the IoT ecosystem) and launches of starter kits. Whilst Verizon and AT&T staked their claims to be the world’s first carriers to deploy LTE-M (a.k.a. LTE Cat M1) commercially in Q4 2016, all nine operators indicate major LTE-M launch/expansion plans for 2017.

Amongst the major players listed above, Orange has announced it will commercially deploy LTE-M technology on its mobile networks in Spain and Belgium this year, with the rest of its European footprint to follow, whilst also announcing the creation of an IoT Open Lab for LTE-M technology in France to be launched under the GSMA Mobile IoT initiative on 1 April. It is noteworthy that Orange has also deployed non-3GPP LoRaWAN technology in France, supported by the LoRa Alliance, whilst the group aims to utilise another 3GPP standard, EC-GSM-IoT, in its African footprint.

Similarly, Telstra has selected Ericsson to support the deployment of what it says will be Australia’s largest IoT network, utilising Cat M1 functionality. Telstra has commenced Cat M1 trials with Ericsson in Melbourne and Tasmania, with device partners including Sierra Wireless, Altair and Bosch.

Exploring further Cat M1-based niches, AT&T has demonstrated voice-over-LTE (VoLTE) on LTE-M technology using Qualcomm’s MDM9206 LTE modem and Ericsson’s radio and core network, enabling ‘regular voice services’ for IoT applications on LTE-M enabled IoT devices; AT&T plans to extend the technology into its mobile network ‘to enhance existing and new IoT use cases requiring voice services’.

Another of the aforementioned LTE-M ‘groupies’ Telefonica, meanwhile, has struck a global deal to integrate SIGFOX’s low power wide area (LPWA) IoT network solution into the operator’s managed connectivity platform to complement its cellular-based offerings. The deal is part of Telefonica’s global strategy regarding LPWA IoT, relying on licensed spectrum standards (including NB-IoT and LTE-M) and non-licensed technology such as SIGFOX, adopting ‘the most appropriate technology to the use case and customer needs’, and the two companies are already in discussions with customers to deliver mass IoT rollouts across Europe and Latin America in 2017 (including Spain, Germany, Mexico, Colombia, Argentina and Brazil), representing several millions of SIGFOX-based connections. A press release from SIGFOX notes that SIGFOX networks are currently present in 31 countries, with a projected 60-country coverage by 2018.

Notably absent from the LTE-M (low) power list, Vodafone Group has claimed in a press release that it is the first mobile provider to exceed 50 million IoT connections worldwide, and is adding around one million new IoT connections per month, with particularly strong growth in the automotive, healthcare and utilities sectors. The UK-based group currently operates mobile networks in 26 countries, and partners mobile networks in 49 more, whilst it has experienced double-digit annual growth in IoT revenue since first establishing a dedicated business unit focused on M2M technologies in 2011.

Underlining its British parent’s fervent support for the NB-IoT standard, Vodafone Spain has expanded its commercial NB-IoT network coverage to six cities: Barcelona, Bilbao, Sevilla and Malaga now join Madrid and Valencia (where NB-IoT services were launched in January). The operator says that by end-March it will have more than 1,000 mobile network base stations updated with NB-IoT. Each base station can connect more than 100,000 devices to the Internet of Things. Meanwhile in a rival Spanish announcement, Telefonica, Ericsson and Telit have successfully tested what they claim to be the country’s ‘first end-to-end NB-IoT data communications call’. The test used NB-IoT over Telefonica’s Spanish network in Band 20 (800MHz). Ericsson’s radio and packet core technologies were used alongside Telit modules integrating NB-IoT chipsets. The Swedish vendor added that this test together with similar tests already performed for LTE-M would enable the demonstration of Massive IoT technologies powering a wide range of use cases during MWC.

Also apparently not in the LTE-M fan-club, German giant Deutsche Telekom’s domestic division Telekom Deutschland will commercially launch NB-IoT in the second quarter of 2017, as part of the group’s planned NB-IoT rollout/expansion across eight countries this year, namely: Germany, the Netherlands, Greece, Poland, Hungary, Austria, Slovakia and Croatia. Several pilots with large German customers in the areas of smart metering, smart parking and asset tracking are already running (including energy provider Ista which operates more than 15 million connected devices in homes across Europe), whilst in the Netherlands the nationwide implementation of the NB-IoT network is scheduled to be completed this year (with several customers already named including indoor climate specialist Itho Daalderop, railway maintenance specialist Dual Inventive and sensor maker Smartsensors). In its other European markets, including Austria, Croatia, Greece, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia, Deutsche Telekom says it will extend existing NB-IoT network coverage to more cities during 2017. Claudia Nemat, Board Member for Technology & Innovation at Deutsche Telekom, said: ‘We will continue to upgrade our base stations throughout Europe to support NarrowBand-IoT using the 900MHz and 800MHz frequency.’

Elsewhere in the Deutsche Telekom group, Croatian full-service operator Hrvatski Telekom (T-HT) has demonstrated a pilot project for smart city services based on NB-IoT technology at MWC this week, in partnership with its sister telcos. NB-IoT solutions showcased include Eco Mobile’s sensors for waste containers and a smart parking system provisioned by Mobilisis and Nokia.

Deutsche Telekom has also announced a strategic partnership with China Unicom to link their respective M2M platforms, via which Deutsche Telekom customers will be able to equip and manage devices with M2M connectivity in China, and manage them with the same portal that they use in Europe, whilst China Unicom’s customers will be able to do the opposite. China is predicted to account for 39% of global cellular M2M connections by 2020, according to GSMA forecasts cited by the two companies.

In a similar vein, China Mobile and AT&T are collaborating on a new technology platform that will ‘seamlessly’ link AT&T business customers’ IoT/M2M subscriptions to China Mobile’s network. In a statement ahead of MWC, Li Feng, CEO of China Mobile International, said: ‘We believe this will help unlock new options and experiences for our customers, while achieving one of our core goals – increasing the number of connected devices on our network.’ Chris Penrose, president of IoT solutions at AT&T, added: ‘China is one of the fastest growing markets. It holds incredible opportunity for our global business customers.’

Elsewhere in the People’s Republic, China Unicom, Ericsson and Qualcomm have completed an end-to-end data call using Cat M1 (LTE-M) technology on Unicom’s live network in Yizhuang, Beijing. The trial used Qualcomm’s MDM9206 LTE modem communicating live on a mobile broadband network provided by Ericsson. Yun Hu, Director of IoT Technology at China Unicom Network Technology Research Institute, said: ‘IoT, the fourth wave of mobile communication, will drive the revenue growth of operators’ mobile services. China Unicom is trialing NB-IoT and Cat M1 technology which enables us to continue exploring new models of IoT services.’

Tunisia’s communication and digital economy ministry Mincom has launched a tender for spectrum licences in the 863MHz-870MHz band suitable for IoT services and applications, with applications due by 31 March. Seven start-up companies contributed feedback to a consultation last year on the terms and conditions of the spectrum allocation process.

Vodacom South Africa last month warned its customers of a deadline set by telecoms regulator ICASA to migrate all IoT/M2M devices to a new 14-digit IoT/M2M number format by 28 February. A dramatic increase in the number of M2M devices in South Africa put pressure on the availability of ten-digit mobile numbers, prompting ICASA to implement the dedicated 14-digit range.

Telefonica Chile and Huawei have successfully deployed their first project with real user data using NB-IoT – which the partners claim is the first NB-IoT commercial pilot in Latin America. The project involves connectivity management of a telemetry solution for residential smart water meters supplied by Kamstrup.

Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE) has announced it is working with India’s Tata Communications to support the rollout of the country’s first LoRaWAN (LoRa) network, which Tata unveiled plans for last year. The first phase of the rollout targets cities in India covering over 400 million people. Alongside successful field trials in Mumbai, Delhi and Bangalore, there are currently 35 proof-of-concept applications in trial on the network. The project involves connecting devices, applications and other IoT solutions over the LoRa network in smart buildings, campus, utilities, fleet management, security and healthcare services in nearly 2,000 communities.

Samsung Electronics has signed a solution contract for NB-IoT with KT Corp in South Korea; the partners plan a NB-IoT base station upgrade and virtualised core deployment which will be followed by a commercial nationwide NB-IoT network launch ‘by the second quarter of this year’. KT Corp has also recently signed up to the Cisco Jasper ‘Control Center’ IoT connectivity management platform (which Jasper says now manages IoT devices across more than 550 mobile operator networks worldwide).

Also in South Korea, cellco LG Uplus has utilised the Ericsson virtual Evolved Packet Core to launch a ‘private, secure network slice for enterprise IoT services’. The solution developed for LG Uplus was deployed as an ‘Evolved Packet Core-in-a-box’ and is already in commercial use in the LG Chemical factory, meeting the large enterprise client’s specific IoT connectivity needs. LG Uplus announced that the deployment represents the start of its efforts to expand its business beyond telecoms services.

IoT service platform provider Actility has revealed it is powering the rollout of a nationwide LoRaWAN network in Latvia, partnering with Latvian telecommunications and IT provider Lattelecom. The new Latvian network, utilising Actility’s ThingPark Wireless IoT solution, has already been tested in the capital Riga.

Staying with the Baltics, Actility and Estonian operator Levikom have partnered to launch what they are billing as the world’s first ‘open value chain’ LoRaWAN IoT network, in Estonia, via a nationwide upgrade of Levikom’s existing ‘NORAnet’ LoRa network, to offer carrier-grade IoT connectivity services with multiple radio access. It will also enable geolocation services powered by LoRa devices and wireless technology from Semtech. The network will be focused on smart applications for electricity, gas, water and heating companies. ‘We expect to launch our second generation core network together with our first residential IoT services in March,’ said Toomas Peek, chairman of Levikom.

In another Estonian IoT launch, the similarly named (but unrelated) Levira – the state-backed TV broadcast network operator in Estonia – revealed that it will begin offering LoRaWAN-based smart network services for its business clients, in partnership with specialists including Nordic Automation Systems (NAS), with its first IoT client named as utility group AU Energiateenus. Coming from a similar sector, Hungarian national TV broadcast transmission and telecoms infrastructure operating company Antenna Hungaria is launching IoT networking solutions, initially in Budapest, with services to be expanded to areas including the Lake Balaton region in spring.

US-based Ingenu, a company delivering purpose-built IoT connectivity using unlicensed spectrum, and Brazilian operator Datora Telecom have launched the ‘Machine Network’ in Brazil, an IoT network powered by Ingenu’s RPMA (Random Phase Multiple Access) technology, providing connectivity for IoT/M2M applications such as agriculture, environmental monitoring, logistics and smart city. National completion of the RPMA network in Brazil is expected in late 2018, whilst Ingenu is also currently building out its Machine Network in the US, where it expects to have over 100 major metropolitan areas covered by the end of 2017, and other countries via international strategic partners.

Finally, you may have heard of Australia’s National Broadband Network (NBN), but this week the country’s National Narrowband Network (NNN) is grabbing its own headlines, having embarked on a rollout of a LoRaWAN IoT network across the nation in partnership with Actility. The contract, announced at MWC, will see the partners deploy the LoRa network on a ‘project-by-project’ basis, and follows a six-month trial period which identified the big use cases in Australia as: water, agriculture, energy monitoring and control, soil moisture, rainfall detection, cattle tracking, building management, and people movement.

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