Low power wide area (LPWA) M2M/IoT connections based on unlicensed spectrum technologies – including Sigfox, LoRa and Ingenu – are forecast to reach 50 million by the end of 2018, rising to 400 million worldwide by 2022, compared to roughly 100 million cellular (licensed spectrum) LPWA connections by the last date, according to estimates in a report from Juniper Research. The report also claims that the unlicensed alternatives to licensed cellular technologies could threaten mobile operators’ return on investment in NB-IoT and LTE-M.
One of the main unlicensed IoT players, Sigfox, has announced that networks based on its technology now reach 803 million people via exclusive network operating partners in 45 countries, with population coverage currently expanding by around 30 million each month. The number of Sigfox connected objects rose by 65% in full-year 2017 to 2.5 million. By end-2018 Sigfox plans to have network coverage of 60 countries and over a billion people, and expects to connect six million objects. The French-based company’s own revenues (not those of its network operating partners) increased by 56% in 2017 to EUR50 million (USD62 million), EUR10 million short of target, whilst it aims to break even in the fourth quarter of this year. CEO Ludovic Le Moan declared: ‘There is tremendous value in IoT, which lies in the data that is generated by millions of connected objects across the globe. It’s up to us to turn this golden opportunity into a multi-billion dollar industry … Our challenge for the next few years will be to lower the cost of collecting that data to close to zero.’
Meanwhile, Semtech, the backer of Sigfox’s main unlicensed LPWA IoT competitor LoRa, has announced a partnership with UK-based Lacuna Space and other partners including the European Space Agency (ESA) and Parametric to extend the LoRaWAN network using low-earth orbit satellites. The project aims to provide satellite connectivity ‘between terrestrial gateways out of cellular reach and give continuous global coverage’, supporting IoT devices used in asset tracking or livestock monitoring, for instance. Rob Spurrett, CEO at Lacuna Space, said: ‘Semtech’s LoRa technology and the LoRaWAN open protocol allow for extended range and reach where other networks are unable to cover to develop unknown, unique use cases. Our satellite demonstration has filled the void in rural regions and oceans where there is a lack of traditional network coverage.’
In a sort of rival announcement representing the licensed spectrum LPWA IoT sector, the GSMA has highlighted that 23 mobile operators worldwide have commercially launched 41 cellular IoT networks based on NB-IoT or LTE-M to date. The GSMA also announced that there are now 34 ‘IoT Labs’ in operation around the world which are available to any operator, module vendor or application provider to develop licensed spectrum LPWA devices and applications for a wide variety of verticals. The labs provide organisations with the opportunity to perform end-to-end and interoperability testing on the network. US giant AT&T became the latest operator to participate in the IoT Labs initiative, with the support of three AT&T Foundry locations in Atlanta (Georgia), Houston and Plano (both Texas), and the AT&T Device Radio Lab (DRL) in Austin, Texas.
In the Philippines, Globe Telecom is focusing on NB-IoT technology pilots using the 700MHz and other existing LTE spectrum bands, with the company saying that it favours NB-IoT due to its inherent advantages of long reach and range, while enhancing mobile data services. Quoted by Inquirer.net, Globe CEO Ernest Cu said: ‘Given new business requirements in a highly digital environment, Globe is gearing up to deploy emerging IoT services relevant to various enterprises including the public sector. This is all part of our commitment to enable enterprises to take advantage of the latest technological innovations, which is vital in driving economic competitiveness and growth in the country.’ The report added that emerging IoT use cases in the Philippines include parking sensors, water meter reading, lighting control, garbage collection and flood control, among others.
Nokia and Sweden-based telecoms group Tele2 have signed a five-year agreement to enable the delivery of IoT services to Tele2 enterprise customers based on Nokia’s worldwide IoT network grid (WING). Nokia says that WING will allow Tele2’s IoT division to rapidly and cost-effectively provide complete, managed IoT services to its enterprise customers in fields including transport, healthcare, smart city and utilities to manage their connectivity needs and assets, such as connected cars or connected freight containers, around the globe. The scope of the agreement also includes collaboration and partnership on ‘various technologies such as 5G, NB-IoT, LTE-M, SIM management and analytics to further accelerate the global IoT ecosystem.’
In South Korea, it appears that earlier reports (in November 2017) that SK Telecom (SKT) had upgraded its national LTE-M (Cat-1) network to the latest LTE Cat-M1 standard were premature, as this week (21 February 2018) the operator announced that the upgrade will go commercial in April. SKT earlier disclosed that it had linked the Cat-M1 network with its commercial LoRaWAN IoT network, aiming to allocate higher-volume IoT data traffic to Cat-M1 and low-volume data to LoRa. SKT also announced this week that it is launching an automobile black box using LTE Cat-M1, recording data such as speed and direction.
Elsewhere in cars, CallPass Tech is the first US location-based services provider to use the AT&T LTE-M network to track or find financed or leased vehicles. ‘We can’t overstate the value of GPS tracking technology across the vehicle finance industry,’ said Jason Ashton, president of CallPass Tech, adding: ‘There’s such an inherent risk in the industry. And there’s limited protection through insurance against losing collateral to theft or lack of payment … Working with AT&T to bring the latest, most intelligent network built for IoT is a natural next step.’
Up in the skies, Vodafone is trialling a traffic control drone tracking and safety system using 4G/IoT technology to protect aircraft from accidents and prevent drone incursions at sensitive locations such as airports, prisons and hospitals. Vodafone’s project supports the objectives of the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA), which is developing new pan-European rules to regulate the operation of drones, with a goal of launching the system in 2019.
Finally, DISH Network has said it will spend between USD500 million and USD1 billion through 2020 rolling out the first phase of its US wireless network, deploying an NB-IoT network initially and potentially building out a 5G network later, Fierce Wireless reports. Dish wrote in a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission: ‘In March 2017 we notified the FCC that we plan to deploy a next-generation 5G-capable network, focused on supporting narrowband Internet of Things (IoT). The first phase of our network deployment will be completed by March 2020, with subsequent phases to be completed thereafter. We may also determine that additional wireless spectrum licences may be required to commercialise our wireless business and to compete with other wireless service providers.’ DISH’s AWS-4 and 700MHz E Block spectrum may be used in the NB-IoT rollout, although specific details were not announced.
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