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IoT Time: M2M/Internet of Things weekly digest

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24 May 2017

China Telecom claims that it has established the world’s largest NB-IoT network, having expanded its coverage to national scope after the initial launch of twelve outdoor city test networks in the first quarter of this year. As reported by China Daily, China Telecom reckons that NB-IoT demand in China now accounts for more than 60% of the whole IoT sector. Having announced a ‘world-first’ commercial NB-IoT-based smart water project in March, the carrier has also partnered Shenzhen Gas for NB-IoT applications in the gas sector, and is working on developing a wide range of commercial applications in various fields from smart parking to intelligent manufacturing. One of the latest projects to be announced is a collaboration between China Telecom, Huawei Technologies and bicycle-sharing start-up ofo to develop smart bicycle locks.

Unsurprisingly in a country with roughly half a billion cyclists, Chinese smart bike projects are in vogue – with a rival smart lock venture springing up this week via a partnership between China Mobile, Qualcomm and smart bike sharing company Mobike. Qualcomm says the project involves eMTC/NB-IoT/GSM (LTE Cat M1/NB1 and E-GPRS) multimode field trials, using China Mobile’s 2G/4G multimode network, Mobike’s smart lock and the Qualcomm MDM9206 global multimode LTE modem. Chinese IoT ecosystem developers have the backing of the Ministry of Industry & Information Technology which announced last week that it wanted to speed up the commercial usage of NB-IoT.

Across the Pacific, US giant AT&T has completed nationwide deployment of its live LTE-M IoT network ahead of schedule, prompting it to introduce a new suite of LTE-M-based monthly rate plans starting at USD1.50 per month per device, with further discounts available for yearly/multi-year plans. LTE-M modules begin at USD7.50 each, including a SIM card (half the cost of the LTE Cat-1 module AT&T launched in 2016), whilst AT&T’s current IoT starter kit modules are software-upgradeable to LTE-M with an upcoming firmware update. AT&T highlighted some advantages of LTE-M over legacy M2M/IoT connectivity options, such as: longer battery life (up to ten years); better underground and deep-indoor coverage; and reduced module size (as small as one-sixth the size of existing modules). Chris Penrose, AT&T’s president of IoT solutions, said: ‘We can now reach new places and connect new things at a price that’s more affordable than ever before. Our LTE-M starter kit will also spur developers to open the doors to IoT innovation.’ Note that AT&T is playing catch-up with US rival Verizon, which launched a nationwide commercial LTE-M network in March this year. Neighbouring subsidiary AT&T Mexico, meanwhile, intends to reach nationwide LTE-M coverage by the start of 2018.

Polish IoT provider Netemera has claimed it will roll out Poland’s first nationwide low power wide area (LPWA) IoT network, in partnership with French-based Kerlink, under the ‘Network for Machines’ banner. The LoRaWAN-based network – already deployed throughout the capital Warsaw and suburbs – is owned and operated by Netemera, which selected Kerlink – a founding board member of the LoRa Alliance – to power the Network for Machines project with its Wirnet iBTS and Wirnet iBTS Compact LoRaWAN gateways (carrier-class IoT base stations). The operator is aiming to partner Polish manufacturers, R&D institutions, product providers, start-ups and municipal authorities to design and deploy connected devices for smart applications like water and electricity metering, air-quality monitoring, fleet management, parking, lighting and asset tracking. Laurent Thiriaux, CEO of Netemera, said: ‘Network for Machines already supports several proofs of concept in the field of smart cities, metering and tracking solutions, and offers opportunities for IoT vendors and application developers to test new products and apps.’ Network for Machines is currently being deployed in Poland’s 15 largest cities, with further expansion planned in response to customer demand.

And in a big week for ‘nationwide’ announcements, Connected Baltics, the exclusive Sigfox IoT network operator in the region, has announced that Estonia is the first of the Baltic countries to receive nationwide Sigfox coverage. The claim is based on Connected Baltics’ rollout which has so far covered the majority of large urban areas and more than half of the Estonian population, with the remaining lower-density areas to be covered later this year. Connected Baltics and various partners are running commercial pilot projects on solutions such as remote meter reading, medical, agriculture and retail applications, temperature and environmental monitoring, logistics and transportation, security and asset tracking.

In other Sigfox news, the French company has joined the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) with the aim of contributing to international standardisation for IoT and its applications. The ITU’s study group SG20: Internet of things (IoT) and smart cities & communities (SC&C) works towards the standardisation of end-to-end IoT architectures and mechanisms for the interoperability of systems and sets of data used by various industry sectors (see link below for more information).

In the Middle East, Actility and Machinestalk have announced a partnership to roll out a large-scale LoRaWAN network in Saudi Arabia. Combining French-backed Actility’s LoRaWAN networking expertise with Saudi-based Machinestalk’s IoT platform and solutions, the pair are targeting applications in segments including smart cities and industrial IoT. The announcement appears timely, as last week Saudi Arabia’s Minister of Municipal & Rural Affairs Abdullatief Al-Asheikh unveiled plans to establish ten smart cities in the Kingdom, under its 2020 National Transformation Programme goals. Speaking at the First Saudi Conference for Smart Cities in Riyadh, the minister noted that a study carried out by the ministry in 2015 envisaged deploying smart facilities across 17 major cities representing 75% of the population.

Internet Solutions has announced plans for South Africa’s first network-and-technology-agnostic IoT platform, working initially with Comsol Networks as network connectivity provider via the latter’s LoRaWAN technology. Internet Solutions’ IoT platform boasts ‘intelligent, automated orchestration and self-configuration so that users can change network technology’ (e.g. LoRaWAN, Sigfox, Wi-Fi, GPRS and others), data interfaces or communication protocols ‘at will’. Comsol announced its open architecture, open platform LoRaWAN deployment in November 2016, offering broad geographic coverage including urban and rural areas.

Italian start-up Things Mobile has announced its launch as ‘the first global mobile operator dedicated to the Internet of Things’, aiming to ‘connect millions of devices all over the world’ with its new Things Mobile SIM card, which will offer ‘multi-network connectivity and coverage in over 90% of countries around the world’. Things Mobile is fronted by Manuel Zanella – the creator of ChatSim – whilst the venture is majority-owned by Zeromobile, with other investor partners including Angelsim (an existing investor in ChatSim) and ChatSim’s co-founder Juan de la Coba. A press release claims that the Things Mobile SIM card offers ‘over 50% in savings’, and ‘connects on a permanent roaming basis with 250 accredited partners in over 165 countries, ensuring maximum coverage and better signal quality compared to conventional mobile operators’.

Vodafone Group has confirmed that it will launch commercial ‘nationwide’ NB-IoT networks in Germany and New Zealand during the second half of 2017, whilst a similar launch in Australia in the same period will involve a state-by-state rollout beginning in Victoria, where it has been running NB-IoT trials with Huawei for the past year. Vodafone Australia Enterprise Business Unit executive general manager Stuart Kelly pointed to trials with South East Water (SEW) as the driving force behind NB-IoT take-up by other companies, utilities, and councils, telling ZDNet: ‘We’re working very closely with [SEW] and also with Huawei to continue those trials, and our aim is to move to a commercial trial [in the third quarter].’ Vodafone and Huawei also completed a successful trial of NB-IoT technology across central and suburban Melbourne a year ago.

Ericsson and Microsoft have established a partnership to enable enterprises which use Ericsson’s cloud-based platform-as-a-service (PaaS) IoT Accelerator to deploy their mobile network-based IoT solutions on Microsoft’s Azure cloud platform. Niklas Heuveldop, CTO at Ericsson, said: ‘Today, enterprises face a major challenge of complexity in IoT deployment … our collaboration with Microsoft removes complexity and brings the possibilities of the IoT closer for enterprises everywhere.’

Lastly, Spanish network giant Telefonica is joining the 5G Automotive Association (5GAA), the autonomous vehicles association which was launched in September 2016 and includes other major multinationals such as Vodafone Group, Deutsche Telekom, AT&T, Huawei, BMW and Ford. Vicente Munoz, Chief IoT Officer at Telefonica, stated: ‘We recently showcased our progress in 5G with our connected car demo … and continue to work in this arena to make things move faster.’ Telefonica has also joined the European Automotive-Telecom Alliance (EATA).

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