LPWAN race for cellular IoT heats up with Vodafone’s successful test of NB-IoT

Vodafone said it has successfully carried out NB-IoT (Narrow Band – Internet of Things) interoperability tests, paving the way for a global rollout of NB-IoT services in the near future. The U.K.-based global wireless telco said it has tested modules made by Neul and Qualcomm with network equipment from Ericsson, Huawei and Nokia in multiple regions.

“All of these vendors’ NB-IoT radio access network (RAN) technology has been successfully interconnected with Vodafone’s IoT core network,” said Luke Ibbetson, head of R&D and technology strategy at Vodafone. “As a company committed to a multi-vendor strategy, we understand the importance of a healthy device and network ecosystem in delivering the best service to customers at a competitive price,” he said.

Vodafone deployed its first NB-IoT network in Spain in January 2017. It had previously announced plans to switch on networks in Germany, Ireland, and the Netherlands during the first quarter of this year, but as yet, no such launches have taken place.

Vodafone is a vocal proponent of NB-IoT, a low-power, wide-area network (LPWAN)  technology that uses licensed spectrum to provide two-way communication over long distances and in hard-to-reach locations. It can support huge numbers of cheap, low throughput devices that consume very little power. It was standardized by the 3GPP in June 2016 as part of its work on LTE Release 13 (see reference below).

Vodafone prefers it to competing standards like  ITU-R’s LTE CatM (or M1) and consortium generated LPWAN specifications like LoRaWAN (long range wide area networking). Promoted by the LoRa Alliance, it claims to offer similar performance to NB-IoT, but using unlicensed spectrum, opening the door to any company that wants to operate an IoT network, not just licensed spectrum holders.

And let’s not forget the leader in LPWANs- Sigfox, which claims to be “the only global operated LPWAN IoT network to provide high capacity and high service level while operating in the unlicensed ISM frequency bands.”  32 countries covered, low energy consumption, low cost, and compatible wireless technology (compatible with Bluetooth, GPS 2G/3G/4G and WiFi) are its touted advantages over other LPWANs

Author’s Note:  We’ve written for well over a year on the many competing LPWAN specs and still believe there are way too many of them!