Director of Research & Development, Vodafone Group
With broad support from multiple network operators, equipment providers, chipset and module makers, we’ve made significant progress with NB-IoT over the past six months. With the full 3GPP standard to be released imminently and preparations well underway for a commercial launch in 2017, I thought it would be a good time to give an update on where we’re heading with the technology.
NB-IoT is the best technology for LPWA networks
Following trials of the technology over the past 12 months, NB-IoT is now widely recognised as the best technology for a wide range of applications and services. From keeping track of utility meters, to monitoring car park sensors, through to asset-tracking, the technology has demonstrated outstanding capabilities and has exceeded our expectations. There are some important reasons for this:
Licenced spectrum - NB-IoT operates in licenced spectrum, which means that quality of service can be assured and the risk of disruption to the signal from other technologies using the same frequencies is minimal.
Bandwidth – NB-IoT benefits from using bandwidth which is both secure and managed, which increases the reliability of the connection. Two-way communication is essential for being able to manage objects remotely and monitor battery life.
Networks - NB-IoT uses existing networks infrastructure, which means that current systems can be upgraded extremely quickly, largely through software RAN upgrades which minimise the need to deploy additional physical infrastructure. Furthermore, industries deploying technology based on NB-IoT can rely on service providers to provision their services rather than having to manage it themselves.
Open standards – NB-IoT is based on open standards, which minimises the risk of technology becoming redundant in the future and helps to ensure that those using the technology are not “locked-in” to a specific vendor or operator.
Industry support – NB-IoT has the support from a wide range of service providers, equipment providers, chipset and module makers, who are investing in the technology for the long-term.
As we move towards commercial deployment, we will work with the industry to provide developers and engineers with the support they need to bring their products to market. The NB-IoT open labs programme will play an important role and act as a catalyst for the technology. Following the launch of the first lab in the UK in April, we look forward to a new wave of labs opening across Europe in the coming months.
Putting NB-IoT through its paces
Working with our partners and enterprise customers, we’ve been rigorously testing NB-IoT technology for well over a year. We’ve been thrilled with the results, which have demonstrated that the technology:
has outstanding coverage;
helps preserve battery life; and
can be delivered at low cost.
In Turkey and Spain we are using pre-standard NB-IoT to connect sensors in a car park that tell drivers using a smartphone application exactly where to find a parking space. We’ve also conducted a trial on Vodafone Spain’s commercial network where it was demonstrated that the technology could be used to connect water meters located in hard to reach locations.
Over the coming months we will continue to test the technology, conduct new trials, and expand existing ones. For example, we are already planning to conduct a broader field trial later this year with the Spanish water company Aguas de Valencia.
Preparing the Vodafone network for commercial roll-out
NB-IoT benefits from using existing network infrastructure, which means that it will have excellent coverage, reliable connectivity and will benefit from using established networks that are continually monitored and managed for performance.
From a Vodafone perspective, a large proportion of our network hardware only requires a software upgrade to support the technology, which means the job of getting it ready for widespread NB-IoT deployments can be completed extremely quickly. We estimate that 85% of our base stations will be able to support NB-IoT with a straight-forward software upgrade, however in some markets, such as the Netherlands, the figure rises to 95%.
We’ve already started the process of upgrading our core and radio network and we expect to launch services across Vodafone markets during 2017. While there is still work to do, we believe it could be one of the fastest roll-outs of new technology that we’ve ever completed.
NB-IoT has proved to be an extremely capable technology and while there are many obvious uses for NB-IoT, there will be many more that we haven’t even thought of yet. As we prepare our networks for widespread deployment, we look forward to working with the industry to nurture a broad ecosystem of developers and engineers who will push the boundaries of what is possible and bring services to market that will genuinely transform lives and businesses for the better.