Internet of Things

Vodafone faces competition as it promises to roll-out NB-IoT technology in 2017

International telecom operator Vodafone, recently announced that it promises to roll-out NB-IoT technology (NarrowBand technology: works virtually anywhere) across “multiple markets” in 2017 in order to boost activity for the low power wide area (LPWA) cellular technology. Vodafone is facing strong competition from rivals such as Ingenu, LoRa and Sigfox.

According to a report by Mobile World Live, Vodafone’s commitment is very significant because the NB-IoT standard has not yet been officially determined (it is expected to be this summer). Rival offerings using low-cost unlicensed spectrum, have reportedly stolen a march on efforts to deploy low-cost IoT networks that only need to support low data rates, thus providing functions from sensor monitoring to asset tracking.

Erik Brenneis, Vodafone’s IoT group director, says that NB-IoT operates in licensed spectrum, unlike some of its competitors, which he says is important because “we need to deliver a high quality experience to our customers.” Clearly singling out the likes of Sigfox and other similar competitors, Brenneis further added: “The alternative, using unlicensed spectrum, risks disruption to the signal from other technologies trying to use the same frequencies.”

Vodafone has stood by its attempt to create a community of NB-IoT developers, by opening what it claims to be the world’s first NB-IoT open lab in Newbury, United Kingdom, which will be the first of several other labs in other countries. The company already operates in around 30 countries around the world.

In a blog post, Brenneis stressed his desire for more collaboration between traditional mobile players in order to bring exciting, new technology to the market. He believes that the industry needs to focus more on “rapid trials” and help customers seamlessly add NB-IoT to their products.

His views are similar to that of Huawei, a partner of Vodafone on its NB-IoT work. As one of the main vendors driving NB-IoT, Huawei has been supported by chipset makers such as Qualcomm, Intel and HiSilicon; as well as module makers such as U-blox, Telit, Sierra and Gemalto; and vendor rivals Ericsson and Nokia.

Other operators are still making their mind up about which LPWA tech to support. For instance, Altice’s SFR is deploying Sigfox, while its rivals Bouygues and Orange have gone with LoRa. NB-IoT is sure to make waves when it becomes commercialized in 2017 with China Mobile rapidly prepping for it. The technology is also supported by other major telecom operators such as Etisalat and Telecom Italia.