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Anything, anywhere and the future of the Internet of Things

06 Apr 2021
Erik Brenneis

Erik Brenneis

IoT Director, Vodafone Business

The Internet of Things (IoT) is a technology with the potential to connect anything, anywhere.

However, for many years, IoT providers could only rely on standard cellular connectivity to offer digital solutions to their customers. This meant the major players in the markets were automakers, logistics, utilities and healthcare companies whose deployment were not constrained by location, size or power requirements.

The IoT solutions used in these sectors also needed large data capacity and, in many cases, access to global connectivity. As a result, they were incredibly efficient, but not always cost-effective nor useful for the various types of IoT deployments.

LPWA – the game changer

The reason is not all connected devices are high value, need the capability to gather and process a large amount of data or need be constantly connected. And not all of the devices a business might need to connect are necessarily located in areas where standard cellular coverage is available.

That’s why everything changed with the introduction of Low Power, Wide Area Network (LPWA) technologies like NB-IoT and LTE-M.

These technologies, which we have been at the forefront since 2017, operate on the same licensed mobile networks that we use for consumer and enterprise customers, allowing them to benefit from the significant investments that are made in network resilience and security.

This makes them ideal to connect devices that, albeit less valuable than a car or a plane engine, still demand an extremely high quality of service because they often provide critical functions, like water pipes or smart meters.

Over the past five years, we have extended LPWA footprint to cover 34 countries and 45 networks. And we are deploying LTE-M technology to complement NB-IoT to create a complete IoT connectivity portfolio that ranges from satellite through 5G, 4G, 2G to LTE-M and NB-IoT.

Why do you need LTE-M and NB-IoT

According to our IoT Spotlight report, IoT is not only making businesses more profitable and efficient but is also creating completely new revenue streams for a third of adopters.1

And LTE-M and NB-IoT play a key role in making this possible by enabling a range of completely new use cases for IoT projects, especially ones including battery-powered devices that do not require the bandwidth of a 4G service.

These use cases are not all the same though. Some require ultra-low bandwidth and the longest battery life; others are less power-critical but need more advanced services, like voice ones. And as network operators around the world begin to switch off 2G, customers need an alternative to 4G, which might be over-performant in some cases, and NB-IoT, which in some cases might operate at the limits of its ideal envelope.

So enter LTE-M

LTE-M marries the ability to provide long battery life and indoor penetration with the capacity to do more than just send a signal.

The reason is that LTE-M is optimised for voice applications, not just basic data transmission, and even supports VoLTE. And thanks to its capability to automatically transfer the signal to another antenna when available, it is ideal for moving devices, which will be essential as we step into a future when almost 100% of the vehicles shipped globally will have some sort of in-built connectivity.

LTE-M, as with all the other IoT network technologies we provide, is integrated with our GDSP connectivity platform. This means customers can manage all their devices through a single pane of glass irrespective of the technology used for the connection.

Being able to manage any connection on a single system is a major benefit, especially as IoT adoption continues to grow and the number of devices connected by LPWA technologies alone is expected to reach 4 billion by 2030.2

Integrated future

LPWA devices are set to make another leap forward with iSIM (integrated SIM) technology.

An iSIM does the same job as a normal SIM: it controls access to the network. However, an iSIM is integrated into the silicon of the IoT.

This reduces the component count, cost and energy consumption, freeing up space for batteries. But it also makes it possible to build smaller connected devices.

These characteristics, combined with NB-IoT and LTE-M and the capability to “remotely provision” the iSIM, open up a wide range of opportunities for new applications and connected services.

What’s next?

IoT has grown-up and one size no longer fits all.

Products today can be designed with the right connectivity built-in to provide the right balance of performance, power and longevity. And customers can choose the kind of connectivity they need for their specific IoT project.

By combining simple and automated provisioning with management through a single portal and NB-IoT and LTE-M network capabilities, iSIM represents one of the best opportunities for mass IoT deployments. From the hundreds of thousands to the millions of smart devices.

Whether they need extreme low-latency or deep signal penetration and a battery life of 10 years, we want our customers, large and small, to know they can rely on us. And not just to make their operations more efficient and resilient today, but also ready to make the most of the opportunities their business will have tomorrow.

Discover more about our IoT capabilities in the Gartner 2021 Magic Quadrant for Managed IoT Connectivity Services.

 

1Some 34% have seen IoT directly generate new revenue streams

2https://transformainsights.com/news/low-power-wide-area-lpwa-iot-connections-4-billion-2030/

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