Ericsson, Huawei incompatibility threatens NB-IoT – sources

Interoperability problems between Ericsson and Huawei are hindering the rollout of NB-IoT services, according to a number of industry figures and experts.

Such problems could hand an advantage to rival technologies targeting demand for low-power, wide-area (LPWA) connectivity and leave NB-IoT playing a smaller role than was originally envisaged.

NB-IoT was included in the Release 13 standards update from the 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP) specifications group last summer but has subsequently limped into the commercial Internet of Things (IoT) market, despite earlier predictions that it would quickly sweep aside its rivals. (See Vodafone to 'Crush' LoRa, Sigfox With NB-IoT.)

Crushing Developments
Matt Beal, Vodafone's director of innovation and architecture, last year predicted that NB-IoT would make mincemeat of Sigfox and LoRa.
Matt Beal, Vodafone's director of innovation and architecture, last year predicted that NB-IoT would make mincemeat of Sigfox and LoRa.

Vodafone Group plc (NYSE: VOD), one of its biggest supporters, has missed NB-IoT launch targets in some of its European markets. Several other operators that might have been expected to take immediate advantage of NB-IoT have made no significant commitments to it and are currently promoting other technologies such as Sigfox, LoRa and LTE-M. Those players include France's Orange (NYSE: FTE), KPN Telecom NV (NYSE: KPN) of the Netherlands, Spain's Telefónica and South Korea's SK Telecom (Nasdaq: SKM). (See Vodafone to Miss NB-IoT Launch Targets, Eurobites: Orange Bangs the Drum for LTE-M, Sigfox 'Only Option' Today, Says Telefónica and LoRa May Not Be for Long Haul at Orange.)

According to several executives in the IoT market, one of the problems with NB-IoT is that equipment from China's Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd. is incompatible with gear from Sweden's Ericsson AB (Nasdaq: ERIC), which effectively means there is more than one "version" of NB-IoT.

"Some companies oversold NB-IoT and now the operators realize it is not that easy a deployment," said Gabor Pop, a solutions marketing manager with Actility, an IoT software company, during an LPWA conference in Paris in March. "The software upgrades are quite expensive, there is still no ecosystem, there is still a Huawei implementation that is not the same as an Ericsson one -- it seems they are not interoperable." (See The NB-IoT Train Is Delayed.)

Actility supports a range of LPWA technologies, including LoRa, LTE-M and NB-IoT, but Pop reckons the concerns about NB-IoT have convinced some operators to deploy LoRa "and wait a couple of years for NB-IoT."

John Horn, the CEO of IoT specialist Ingenu, echoed Pop's remarks about interoperability problems between Ericsson and Huawei during a recent interview with Light Reading. (See Ingenu Seeks Funding to Support Growth.)

"Rollouts announced in… different countries [will] end up being… different technologies," he said.

Ingenu has developed a rival LPWA technology called RPMA (for random phase multiple access), which gives Horn a vested interest in knocking NB-IoT. (See Ingenu Revs Up IoT Rhetoric.)

But his criticisms demand to be taken seriously given his industry standing -- he was previously the president of managed services player RacoWireless, sold to rival KORE Wireless Group Inc. in 2014, and before that spent nine years as a director at T-Mobile US Inc. -- as well as the doubts from other quarters.

Horn blames the emergence of different versions of NB-IoT on an intellectual property (IP) dispute between Ericsson and Huawei and says the two vendors "are still battling over IP in the standard."

Want to know more about the Internet of Things? Check out our dedicated IoT content channel here on Light Reading.

He is not the only one who says that Ericsson and Huawei have clashed on the IP that underpins NB-IoT.

Last year, a spokesperson for the LoRa Alliance -- an association set up to promote LoRa technology over alternatives including NB-IoT -- said the standardization of NB-IoT was held up by the IP fight between Ericsson and Huawei.

Asked to comment on the remarks about interoperability, and if there is any problem with the current standard, a spokesperson for the 3GPP said in an emailed response: "We cannot comment on implementations, as we simply do not have the facts to hand and we would assume that there are various aspects to consider, in addition to the 3GPP specifications."

"I am sure that if this is related to issues with the specifications, this will be fed back to 3GPP groups as technical contributions," the spokesperson added.

Next page: Vendors in denial

1 of 3
Next Page
Michelle 5/12/2017 | 1:35:53 PM
Re: No surprise Point!

/i stand corrected.
Joe Stanganelli 5/4/2017 | 3:23:22 PM
Re: No surprise In a way, the naming/branding of technology stifles progress.  Just look at the history of "fauxG".  ;)
Michelle 5/1/2017 | 1:18:35 PM
Re: No surprise No? I think it's time for a change :D
Joe Stanganelli 5/1/2017 | 9:30:22 AM
Re: No surprise > If it were real technology it would have a name by now, right?

I'm not sure that's a fair standard/rubric... ;)

This is just a proprietary-vs.-proprietary you-know-what contest.  I fully expect the allegations of "vendor lock-in" to start flying any second now, if they haven't already.
Michelle 4/30/2017 | 8:25:33 PM
Re: No surprise Incompatible, eh? This makes me wonder if the whole thing isn't fantasy. If it were real technology it would have a name by now, right? 
Michelle 4/30/2017 | 8:23:55 PM
Re: No surprise I vote YAY. Who will tally the results? We can rebrand the new name by Tuesday...
Joe Stanganelli 4/30/2017 | 10:35:38 AM
Re: No surprise Given the ongoing conversation here as what to call 5G-like technology (link), maybe we should talk about what to rename this incompatible/unworkable NB-IoT tech.

How about NO-IoT?  ;)
ServiceS28721 4/27/2017 | 3:57:54 PM
Not a surprise Not a surprise from Huawei by them not meeting with standards for making competitor's life more difficult. They ave always had compatibility "issues" for interoperability with other vendors, just wanting to avoid patent fees.
DanJones 4/26/2017 | 3:00:01 PM
No surprise Given that no one in the industry can even decide what to call the tech it's not super surprising.
Sign In