As recently as early 2013, the term ‘LPWA’ did not even exist. The fact that the LPWA space has since then become one of the fastest developing aspects of the Internet of Things (IoT) market is testimony to the incredible potential for LPWA technologies.Analysts forecasts LPWA technologies will generate $970 million globally in connectivity revenue in 2018, rising to $7.5 billion in 2022. By that time, network operators could be generating more than $13 billion from LPWA connectivity, as well as significant additional revenues from value-added services, such as data analytics and security.
Machina Research forecasts that the LPWA market globally could be worth US$589 billion by 2020 in US$ (2011) real terms of the M2M market where connections will be either suitable for or adaptable to LPWA technology. That’s big bucks on the table if you can figure out the intricate business models that underpin IoT.
LPWA networks are designed for M2M applications that have low data rates, require long battery lives and operate unattended for long periods of time, often in remote locations. They are expected to be used for a wide variety of applications such as industrial asset tracking, safety monitoring, water and gas metering, smart grids, city parking, vending machines and city lighting.
The underlying technologies include Narrow Band IoT (NB-IoT), Extended Coverage GPRS and LTE Machine Type Basically LPWA technologies fall in the unlicensed bands and the licensed bands.Three separate tracks for licensed Cellular IoT technologies are being standardized in 3GPP:
LTE-M, an evolution of LTE optimized for IoT in 3GPP RAN. First released in Rel. 12 in Q4 2014 and further optimization will be included in Rel. 13 with specifications complete in Q1 2016.
EC-GSM (Extended Coverage GSM) is an evolutionary approach being standardized in GERAN Rel. 13 with specifications complete in Q1 2016. Extended coverage GSM IoT (EC-GSM-IoT) is a standard-based Low Power Wide Area technology. It is based on eGPRS and designed as a high capacity, long range, low energy and low complexity cellular system for IoT communications. The optimisations made in EC-GSM-IoT that need to be made to existing GSM networks can be made as a software upgrade, ensuring coverage and accelerated time to-market. Battery life of up to 10 years can be supported for a wide range use cases.
EC-GSM is achieved by defining new control and data channels mapped over legacy GSM. It allows multiplexing of new EC-GSM devices and traffic with legacy EDGE and GPRS. No new network carriers are required: new software on existing GSM networks is sufficient and provides combined capacity of up to 50,000 devices per cell on a single transceiver.
A new narrowband radio interface (Clean Slate Cellular IoT) as part of RAN Rel. 13 standardization with specifications was completed july 2016. Two solutions are being proposed for the narrowband Clean Slate Cellular IoT, a NB Cellular IoT solution based on narrowband FDMA in the uplink and narrowband OFDMA in the downlink; and a 200 kHz narrowband evolution of LTE-M. NB-IoT provides lean setup procedures, and a capacity evaluation indicates that each 200kHz NB-IoT carrier can support more than 200,000 subscribers. The solution can easily be scaled up by adding multiple NB-IoT carriers when needed.
NB-IoT also comes with an extended coverage of up to 20dB, and battery saving features, Power Saving Mode and eDRX for more than 10 years of battery life. NB-IoT is designed to be tightly integrated and interwork with LTE, which provides great deployment flexibility. The NB-IoT carrier can be deployed in the LTE guard band, embedded within a normal LTE carrier, or as a standalone carrier in, for example, GSM bands.
Vodafone Australia has completed its trial of narrowband Internet of Things (NB-IoT) technology across Melbourne, calling the wireless low-power wide-area network tests a success. The network operator was able to attain greater depth and distance — to the tune of penetrating through three double-brick walls in depth, and up to 30km in distance — in coverage using NB-IoT in comparison to 2G, 3G, and 4G
Whether operators choose the GSM, NB-IoT or LTE-M track – or a combination of these – will depend on several factors such as technology coverage, future technology strategies and targeted market segments. Whichever path they take, they have a huge opportunity to benefit from the emerging IoT revolution. Operators can choose to continue offering telecom-grade connectivity as they do today, or they can evolve to become a platform or fully-fledged IoT service provider targeting a larger slice of future IoT revenues.
For Telcos in developing regions with legacy 2 G infrastructure EC GSM is your best hope as you battle to get LTE spectrum from sluggish Regulators. It means you don’t have to switch off 2 G and lose your legacy investment….just repurpose it for IoT applications. Don’t waste time get on with IoT using EC GSM now. The GSM infrastructure is already there.
Ericsson , Orange and Intel have completed one of the first live trials of EC-GSM-IoT technology for Internet of Things optimized for, low-cost, low-complexity devices and enhanced network capabilities for cellular IoT. This groundbreaking EC-GSM-IoT trial was conducted in Paris from November 2015 to February 2016, using the 900 MHz band. Coverage extension of 20 dB beyond GSM coverage was reached, showing a seven-fold improvement in the range of low-rate applications. It also showed the ability to reach challenging locations such as deep indoor basements, where many smart meters are installed, or remote areas in which sensors are deployed for agriculture or infrastructure monitoring use cases.
Mobile IoT, the technology which is helping to bring secure, reliable Low Power Wide Area (LPWA) networks to the internet of things, was being fully showcased inside the GSMA Innovation City. Mobile IoT is a key enabler for IoT services in the agricultural sector due to its typical location in rural areas, where broadband coverage can be patchy. IoT solutions in the agricultural sector can be used to enhance farming in many ways, such as crop quality, yield, worker safety and improved logistics .
Mobile IoT is transforming the agricultural sector with Ericsson, Intel and Orange’s Smart Agriculture/Connected Vineyard which showcased at MWC how EC-EGPRS will address the challenge of extending coverage to difficult-to-reach indoor locations such as basements as well as remote rural locations, such as vineyards and farms.
Deploying IoT sensors to measure elements like air or water quality, radiation, or sensors to detect hazardous chemicals can help track the evolution of the environment. Inaccessible, polluted or uninhabitable spaces can be accessed without risking the health of technicians. Parents of infants with breathing problems and asthma affected citizens could also receive precise information in real time. Of course workers that need to operate in hazardous conditions (like mines or workplaces exposed to radiation), can benefit from this real time environmental data more than anyone.
One of key verticals to benefit from Mobile IoT is the utilities sector, for which there were multiple demonstrations. Huawei, Neul, Vodafone and u-blox are exhibiting the Mobile IoT Water Meter, which uses NB-IoT technology to help provide real time usage information and fault management using live results relayed from Vodafone’s Proof of Concept in Valencia, Spain. Because the meter can be read remotely by both the customer and supplier, monitoring usage is much more convenient and eliminates the need for home readings.
Ericsson and Intel were also highlighting the value Mobile IoT can bring to the utilities sector with their Fleet tracking and Smart Grid monitoring which demonstrates how Cat-M technology supports extended coverage in underground or rural areas for IoT applications such smart grid management and fleet management.
Ericsson, Intel and Nokia’s Connected eBike demo brings the IoT to one of the world’s popular and accessible forms of travel. This innovative bike tracking solution uses NB-IoT technology to track the real-time location and status of eBikes through urban underground or even rural environments with lower signal levels. The Sierra Wireless’ Connected Consumer and Industrial devices demo showed how Cat-M technology can be used for a variety of consumer devices, such as connected shoes, wearables and healthcare devices, as well as industrial devices, such as smart electric meters.
Continuing with solutions that serve consumers as well as business, Vodafone and Huawei were exhibiting their Pet Tracking solution that uses NB-IoT to monitor the location of pets on a tablet, computer or smartphone. This greatly reduces the risk of pets becoming lost, alerts owners when they stray out of bounds and can help indicate a pet’s health problem through the monitoring of sustained periods of inactivity. Fido will be pleased 🙂 And the same can go for tracking lost kids in Maternity Hospitals or Amusement parks !!
LPWA technologies present a good opportunity for non-MNO network providers to engage in IoT markets. A wide range of players (including fixed carriers and companies that operate radio towers networks) are well-positioned to deploy LPWA networks on a nationwide basis. There are also opportunities to by installing (and potentially operating) campus-type LPWA networks or through supporting shared Radio Access Networks which other market participants use to support their LPWA services.
As is the case with traditional cellular connectivity, the provision of LPWA connectivity should be seen as a route to securing and maintaining customer relationships. Generally, such direct customer relationships are more profitable than the provision of connectivity services and by offering both traditional cellular and LPWA connectivity options, MNOs are better positioned to defend and grow revenues. Fortunately some Telcos such as Etisalat UAE have taken the LPWA bull by the horns !!
To support businesses in their IoT strategies, Etisalat has strengthened its solutions portfolio in various areas ranging from smart city applications such as smart parking, public lighting, waste management, traffic management and smart surveillance systems to industrial IoT solutions such as energy management, asset management, remote monitoring of all types of devices video analytics, smart retail solutions and big.
IoT powered by licensed LPWA technologies might be the single greatest revenue spinner for Telcos battling against OTT players. But remember : each IoT application needs a clear value proposition and business logic in line with the prevailing ecosystem, business models and value chains of the various stakeholders.
For all applications, solutions need to be integrated on platforms that can scale and handle millions of devices efficiently. Business processes for administration, provisioning and charging will have to be streamlined to minimize costs and enhance the business case.
Sadiq Malik ( Telco Strategist )
Useful IoT resources :