I have seen many people wondering if so many different types of IoT technologies are needed, 3GPP or otherwise. The story behind that is that for many years 3GPP did not focus too much on creating an IoT variant of the standards. Their hope was that users will make use of LTE Cat 1 for IoT and then later on they created LTE Cat 0 (see here and here).
The problem with this approach was that the market was ripe for a solution to a different types of IoT technologies that 3GPP could not satisfy. The table below is just an indication of the different types of technologies, but there are many others not listed in here.
The most popular IoT (or M2M) technology to date is the humble 2G GSM/GPRS. Couple of weeks back Vodafone announced that it has reached a milestone of 50 million IoT connections worldwide. They are also adding roughly 1 million new connections every month. The majority of these are GSM/GPRS.
Different operators have been assessing their strategy for IoT devices. Some operators have either switched off or are planning to switch off they 2G networks. Others have a long term plan for 2G networks and would rather switch off their 3G networks to refarm the spectrum to more efficient 4G. A small chunk of 2G on the other hand would be a good option for voice & existing IoT devices with small amount of data transfer.
In fact this is one of the reasons that in Release-13 GSM is being enhanced for IoT. This new version is known as Extended Coverage – GSM – Internet of Things (EC-GSM-IoT ). According to GSMA, "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."
The most popular of the non-3GPP IoT technologies are Sigfox and LoRa. Both these technologies have gained significant ground and many backers in the market. This, along with the gap in the market and the need for low power IoT technologies that transfer just a little amount of data and has a long battery life motivated 3GPP to create new IoT technologies that were standardised as part of Rel-13 and are being further enhanced in Rel-14. A summary of these technologies can be seen below
If you look at the first picture on the top (modified from Qualcomm's original here), you will see that these different IoT technologies, 3GPP or otherwise address different needs. No wonder many operators are using the unlicensed LPWA IoT technologies as a starting point, hoping to complement them by 3GPP technologies when ready.
Finally, looks like there is a difference in understanding of standards between Ericsson and Huawei and as a result their implementation is incompatible. Hopefully this will be sorted out soon.
Telefonica has publicly said that Sigfox is the best way forward for the time being. No news about any 3GPP IoT technologies.
Orange has rolled out LoRa network but has said that when NB-IoT is ready, they will switch the customers on to that.
KPN deployed LoRa throughout the Netherlands thereby making it the first country across the world with complete coverage. Haven't ruled out NB-IoT when available.
SK Telecom completed nationwide LoRa IoT network deployment in South Korea last year. It sees LTE-M and LoRa as Its 'Two Main IoT Pillars'.
Deutsche Telekom has rolled out NarrowBand-IoT (NB-IoT) Network across eight countries in Europe (Germany, the Netherlands, Greece, Poland, Hungary, Austria, Slovakia, Croatia)
Vodafone is fully committed to NB-IoT. Their network is already operational in Spain and will be launching in Ireland and Netherlands later on this year.
Telecom Italia is in process of launching NB-IoT. Water meters in Turin are already sending their readings using NB-IoT.
China Telecom, in conjunction with Shenzhen Water and Huawei launched 'World's First' Commercial NB-IoT-based Smart Water Project on World Water Day.
SoftBank is deploying LTE-M (Cat-M1) and NB-IoT networks nationwide, powered by Ericsson.
Orange Belgium plans to roll-out nationwide NB-IoT & LTE-M IoT Networks in 2017
China Mobile is committed to 3GPP based IoT technologies. It has conducted outdoor trials of NB-IoT with Huawei and ZTE and is also trialing LTE-M with Ericsson and Qualcomm.
Verizon has launched Industry’s first LTE-M Nationwide IoT Network.
AT&T will be launching LTE-M network later on this year in US as well as Mexico.
Sprint said it plans to deploy LTE Cat 1 technology in support of the Internet of Things (IoT) across its network by the end of July.
- An Introduction to IoT: Connectivity & Case Studies
- GSMA: Extended Coverage – GSM – Internet of Things (EC-GSM-IoT )
- 3GPP Rel-14 IoT Enhancements
- 5G Americas: LTE and 5G Technologies Enabling the Internet of Things [PDF]
- Samsung: Internet of Things - Introducing innumerable opportunities [PDF]
- The Korean Institute of Communications Information Sciences: A survey on LPWA technology: LoRa and NB-IoT
- Nokia: LTE evolution for IoT connectivity
- Carriers aim to crush LoRa, Sigfox and others