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Vodafone to 'Crush' LoRa, Sigfox With NB-IoT

Iain Morris
4/25/2016
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Vodafone reckons the emerging NB-IoT standard will be the death of rival technologies like Sigfox and LoRa, which have been relying on the use of unlicensed spectrum to support services.

NB-IoT is one of several licensed-spectrum technologies designed to overcome the power and distance limitations of mainstream cellular standards in Internet of Things (IoT) settings.

But it faces competition from so-called low-power, wide-area (LPWA) network technologies that are already on the market. The most high profile of these LPWA rivals include Sigfox , a French company that claims to be rolling out networks in 17 countries, and LoRa, a more "open" system whose supporters include French operators Orange (NYSE: FTE) and Bouygues Telecom . (See Sigfox Slams 'Proprietary' LoRa, Costly LTE and Orange Hails LoRa Breakthrough as Bouygues Ups IoT Game.)

Vodafone Group plc (NYSE: VOD), by contrast, has thrown additional weight behind NB-IoT with the opening earlier today of a dedicated NB-IoT lab at its UK headquarters in Newbury, in partnership with Chinese equipment supplier Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd.

The operator was already a major player in the NB-IoT Forum, an association established in late 2015 to spur the development of the technology.

Developers and organizations looking to use NB-IoT to support commercial services will now be able to test their applications at Vodafone's new facility.

Similar IoT facilities are planned at other locations internationally, but none will support the testing of unlicensed-spectrum technologies, according to Matt Beal, Vodafone's director of innovation and architecture.

"NB-IoT will crush Sigfox and LoRa because it means there will be no need for them," Beal told Light Reading on the sidelines of the Newbury lab opening.

Blue Sky Thinking
Matt Beal, Vodafone's director of innovation and architecture, sees a bright future for NB-IoT.
Matt Beal, Vodafone's director of innovation and architecture, sees a bright future for NB-IoT.

Supporters of Sigfox and LoRa note that NB-IoT has yet to see commercial deployment and will remain a costly alternative for several years. But Beal dismisses such concerns, arguing that mobile operators backing NB-IoT have much larger overall customer bases than companies using Sigfox and LoRa and that NB-IoT equipment makers will price their products to reflect growing interest in the technology.

Beal is also sanguine on the issue of upfront investment, claiming that between 80% and 90% of Vodafone's base stations use single RAN technology and therefore will require only a software upgrade to support NB-IoT.

Technology battles
Even so, ensuring networks can support NB-IoT might be a more expensive process for operators that maintain older base stations. There have also been suggestions that NB-IoT will not be included in the 3GPP's Release 13 this June, as the specifications body intends, but instead slip to a future Release 14, which could be a major setback for the technology.

According to an industry source, the current hold-ups are the result of an intellectual property battle between Sweden's Ericsson AB (Nasdaq: ERIC) and Huawei, with the 3GPP keen to avoid a "Qualcomm situation" that leaves one company in the driver's seat.

"Don't believe a word of it," said Luke Ibbetson, Vodafone's chief engineer for Group R&D, when asked about standardization delays during a tour of the operator's new NB-IoT facility. "This will be completely locked down by June."

Indeed, Ibbetson is confident that full commercial deployments of NB-IoT will happen in the first half of 2017.

That target certainly looks bullish. French telecom incumbent Orange has previously told Light Reading it hopes to be able to provide LPWA-like capabilities over a 3GPP standard by the end of 2017. (See LoRa May Not Be for Long Haul at Orange.)


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


In the meantime it is investing in a network based on LoRa technology in France. Orange executives have hinted LoRa is a stopgap until a 3GPP standard emerges, but the operator's strategy suggests it may be hedging its bets.

While Beal expects NB-IoT to spell the demise of Sigfox and LoRa, there is a possibility those LPWA technologies become more firmly established while NB-IoT is taking its fledgling steps -- especially if the standardization process does suffer further delays.

A spokesman for the LoRa Alliance , an association supporting the development of LoRa technology, claims that NB-IoT does not support downlink communications as effectively as LoRa. That would make it less suitable in scenarios where there is a need to send communications from the network to sensors deployed in devices.

The same spokesman also rejects the notion that LoRa versus NB-IoT is a battle between unlicensed and licensed, as service providers look to avoid the interference issues often associated with the former.

LoRa can already be deployed in licensed spectrum bands, he says, but doing so would drive up subscription pricing because of the valuations attached to these airwaves.

While Vodafone seems unlikely ever to become a convert to either LoRa or Sigfox, it does have an eye on other 3GPP-backed technologies targeting the IoT market, including EC-GSM and LTE-M, which could have a role to play in particular scenarios.

But its primary interest remains NB-IoT, with Beal describing the opening of the Newbury lab as a major "catalyst" for the industry. "This is akin to the smartphone world when the app store was built -- this is the beginning of the app store for telcos," he told reporters, analysts and industry figures during a presentation at the opening of the lab.

Vodafone reckons there will be 2.4 billion "addressable M2M [machine-to-machine] connections" globally by 2020 and is forecasting that 1.4 billion of these will rely on LPWA technologies including NB-IoT.

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

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cjtsmith
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cjtsmith,
User Rank: Light Beer
12/8/2016 | 10:48:30 AM
Re: Crush LoRa or SigFox??
"NB-IoT will crush Sigfox and LoRa because it means there will be no need for them"

It seems pretty clear from the article that this was a direct quote from Matt Beal, Vodafone Group's Director of Innovation & Architecture, rather than a statement of opinion from the writer.

Personally I am inclined to agree with you that there is space for several technologies in the market, but the ones that are not backed by 3GPP will certainly need to demonstrate significant advantages over NB-IoT to survive in the long term.

Operators have usually tended to take the safe option of going with the technology backed by globally agreed standards unless there is a very good reason not to, and any advantages of LoRa and SigFox that turn out to be sustainable could probably be addressed in future releases of the standards if necessary.

The fact that several operators have already invested in the existing unlicensed band technologes should not be viewed as a guarantee that they will continue to support them once a standardised solution for the licensed bands becomes available.

If LoRa and SigFox remain only in unlicensed bands, then I am tempted to think that quality issues from interference will sooner or later make them the low cost, low quality option. Under such circumstances they could still survive of course, but it would surely be a struggle.
StaalePettersen
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StaalePettersen,
User Rank: Light Beer
4/27/2016 | 12:15:52 PM
Crush LoRa or SigFox??

This post is written as an induvidual:

When people say: "Crush LoRa or SigFox" with NB-IoT they surly do not understand technology, business models or the market of LPWA. NB-IoT and other cellular technologies as well as WiFi is complimentary technology to meet the requirements of IoT. For LoRa Alliance open business models means you decide what is right for you. Low cost /long battery lifetime does unfortunately not go in the same sentence as latency . This why technologies such as LoRaWAN and UNB has an advantage in their target markets by using unsynchronized networks not requiring sim and have low peak current that allow the use of printed batteries, coin cell and not only C cell batteries.

Market: The LPWA market is divided into two major segments. Public and Private networks, just like in a Wifi network. In Private networks, all are unpaid connections and is driven by requirements that do not allow the solutions to be connected to a public network. In Public networks there are paid and unpaid biz models. Why, simply because connection fee is only 1/8 of the revenue and some decide the want to boost the growth. Independent of buisness model you might choose, LoRaWAN support it. Open for buisness means: Open buisness models, Open standard, Open for buisness. Today 35% of the market is in public networks ad 65% in private networks. This is why analyst companies report only 4B units in 2020 for this segment. Again LoRaWAN address them both and is a firm beliver that we cannot take legacy arcitectures to meet the market need that require LPWA to be more or less for free. With LoRaWAN you have private, hybrid and public networks world wide.

Why is peak current important....simply because low cost battery do no allow high current due to chemestry that either halfen capacity or completely break down the battery. LoRaWAN can be used with coin cells, printed batteries and gives maximum capacity of a AA battery and not 50% reduction. When talking about 10 or 20years of battery life time, actually the internal leakage of a battery has as much to say as the consumption ...unfortunatly the long life time batteries with low internal leakage do not allow for high peak current. Most importantly when having 50B devices around the world, it is the industry responsibility to enable technology that can use enviromental energy srouces without the use of heavy metals.

The entire industry do agree about one thing...80% of applications require localization. That why LoRa do nativly support localisation as part of the message without burning constantly 25mA and additional cost.

 

Latency, LoRaWAN do not gurantee lantency as this drain too much power due to synchronized networks that comes from the need to be alive even if there is no events and the need to precise timing of the endpoint leading to high sleep/standby current and expensive components. Therefore like in connected cars, NB-IoT and other cellular technologies will be used and not LoRaWAN due to the nature of the technology.

 

In M2M and as well as enterprises not owning spectrum, it has always been the way of operation that you fight for the buisness where it is independent of where you own spectrum. Therefore, LoRa was designed to operate in license free band ensuring it had the best noise imunity as possible as well as network management options to give service level agreements without the need to aquire new frequency bands. LoRa is designed and allow you to move out of terriroty and take the lowest possible risk.

I could go on and on, but my intention is not to trash NB-IoT rather the opposite. I firmly believe IoT consist of cellular technologies, WiFi, BTLE, LoRaWAN+++ so next time you want to state "Crush LoRa or SigFox" ask your collegues in the industry about possitioning.

 

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