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Telia 'Betting' on NB-IoT Over LoRa, Sigfox

Iain Morris
11/21/2016

DUBLIN -- IoT World 2016 -- Sweden's Telia Company says it is "unlikely" it will ever make investments in LoRa technology to support its Internet of Things (IoT) strategy given the attractions of the NB-IoT standard.

Hans Dahlberg, who heads up the Swedish operator's IoT business, would not rule out the possibility of a LoRa investment but said that Telia was currently "betting" on NB-IoT rather than technologies using unlicensed spectrum.

Telia Company 's strategy reflects the broader split within the telco community, with some operators including LoRa and Sigfox in their connectivity portfolios while others remain strictly faithful to standards backed by the 3GPP.

Supporters of LoRa and Sigfox claim they are much better than mainstream cellular technologies at catering to the need for low-power, wide-area (or LPWA) network connectivity. That has driven operators, including France's Orange and South Korea's SK Telecom, to announce major investments in LoRa -- whose main backer is a Californian chipmaker called Semtech Corp. (Nasdaq: SMTC) -- in the absence of an economical alternative based on licensed spectrum.

Sigfox, meanwhile, has drawn support from Altice , whose Numericable-SFR subsidiary competes against Orange (NYSE: FTE) in France, and recently said it had raised another €150 million ($159 million) in a new round of funding. (See Sigfox Defies Critics to Raise €150M in Funding.)

Speaking to Light Reading on the sidelines of today's IoT World 2016 event in Dublin, Dahlberg said the emergence of NB-IoT, which was included in the 3GPP's Release 13 in the summer, had filled a cellular gap that was previously missing.

"If you take NB-IoT, which is part of LTE, then you don't need to build extra networks and you can use the same BSS [business support systems]," he said.

The UK's Vodafone Group plc (NYSE: VOD), one of NB-IoT's strongest supporters, has similarly indicated that it will be able to reuse existing LTE investments while deploying NB-IoT. It plans to launch services based on NB-IoT as soon as next year and has gone as far as saying the technology will "crush" Sigfox and LoRa when it arrives. (See Vodafone to 'Crush' LoRa, Sigfox With NB-IoT.)


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Dahlberg is far less partisan and says that unlicensed-spectrum technologies have a role to play, even if Telia is unlikely to make use of them. "We want to have scale and it's easier to build on 3GPP standards than with other technologies," he told an audience at the conference this afternoon.

The Telia executive also sees NB-IoT as a step on the operator's journey toward 5G, which is expected to support a range of mobile services -- from high-definition video streaming, requiring huge amounts of bandwidth, to machine-based connections that need low-latency network capabilities.

"NB-IoT is the first step going into a 5G strategy and 5G will obviously create more flexibility when it comes to handling these kinds of services," he said.

So far, however, Telia has seen a limited number of use cases for LPWA technologies, which may explain why it has felt under little pressure to invest in LoRa or Sigfox. It is now at the early stage of NB-IoT trials, working with Finland's Nokia Corp. (NYSE: NOK), Sweden's Ericsson AB (Nasdaq: ERIC) and China's Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd.

Orange, by contrast, says it chose to roll out a LoRa network, which now covers 1,300 French cities and towns, in response to existing customer needs. "Customers liked the idea of having lower power consumption technology at affordable cost in order to answer use cases we were presenting," said Patrice Slupowski, Orange's vice president of digital innovation, in Dublin today. "We were not in a position to do that with 2G, 3G or 4G."

Slupowski says Orange is now looking at 3GPP-backed technologies including NB-IoT as well as LTE-M and EC-GSM. "We are testing them to see if they could have utility in all the things we want to achieve," he said. (See LoRa May Not Be for Long Haul at Orange.)

— Iain Morris, Circle me on Google+ Follow me on TwitterVisit my LinkedIn profile, News Editor, Light Reading

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