The boss of European chipmaker Sequans has confirmed that interoperability between Ericsson and Huawei remains a problem in the NB-IoT market but says he expects this to be fixed in the next few months. (See Ericsson, Huawei incompatibility threatens NB-IoT – sources.)
Georges Karam, the CEO of Paris-based Sequans, said problems could be traced back to Huawei's original launch of technology based on the expertise of Neul, a small UK-based connectivity specialist it acquired in 2014. (See Huawei Spends $25M on Neul's IoT Smarts.)
While this technology was promoted as NB-IoT, it has not been "100% compliant" with the 3GPP's NB-IoT standard and has required modification, according to Karam.
"The system was working within Huawei… but if you put a Huawei device in the path of Ericsson, then definitely you are going to get issues at the beginning," he told Light Reading. "I don't think it is a major problem and I think it will be fixed over the coming quarter."
Sequans Communications has emerged as one of the main players in the market for chips based on LTE-M and NB-IoT, the cellular standards developed to support devices like smart meters that require low power and low data rate connectivity.
It is supplying chips for use in Verizon's nationwide LTE-M network and counts Ericsson AB (Nasdaq: ERIC) and Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd. as technology partners. (See Verizon Takes IoT Network Nationwide.)
Both vendors previously denied knowledge of interoperability problems when approached by Light Reading.
UK-based Vodafone Group plc (NYSE: VOD), the biggest telco proponent of NB-IoT, last week slammed reporting about interoperability problems as "misinformation." (See NB-IoT Interoperability Problems? 'Misinformation,' Says Vodafone.)
Various sources besides Sequans have now flagged NB-IoT interoperability as a problem, but Karam's is the perhaps most authoritative voice given his company's role in the ecosystem.
His take on the issue validates what Light Reading has heard from other industry experts.
Nick Hunn, the chief technology officer of WiFore Consulting, has said that Ericsson's approach to NB-IoT was to produce a "cut down, lower power variant of 4G" and that Huawei went for more of a "clean sheet" version based heavily on Neul's technology.
But he has described the 3GPP's efforts to resolve these differences as a "fudge" and says they have led to firmware complications for module makers such as Telit.
French software player Actility has also drawn attention to NB-IoT interoperability problems, as have US service provider Aeris Communications Inc. and Ingenu, a San Diego-based company whose proprietary technology is targeting the same opportunities as LTE-M and NB-IoT. (See NB-IoT Gets Insecurity Complex, Ingenu Seeks Funding to Support Growth and Ingenu Revs Up IoT Rhetoric.)
Rivals such as Ingenu clearly have a vested interest in knocking NB-IoT, however, and most analysts, including Hunn, share Karam's view that NB-IoT will eventually overcome its problems.
Karam says the growth of the NB-IoT ecosystem will help because there will be more companies that are able to correlate technical data and agree on the right "interpretation" of the technology.
But he also suggests that "mistakes" in NB-IoT could have resulted from the rush to develop the standard in response to the challenge from Sigfox and LoRa, two unlicensed-spectrum technologies that have already made some headway in the market.
Tom Rebbeck, a director at the Analysys Mason market research business, says the GSM Association was originally "dismissive" of any need for the cellular industry to develop a low-power, wide-area (LPWA) technology. "Then within a year they had turned around because they saw the momentum behind Sigfox and LoRa," he says.
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