Japan’s SoftBank joined the expanding crowd of major mobile operators backing non-cellular low power wide area (LPWA) technology LoRa to support future Internet of Things (IoT) applications.
The operator, the country’s third largest mobile player, announced plans to offer IoT solutions on an LPWA network. Applications range from tracking elderly family members to monitoring the condition of tunnels or automated water metering.
In the first phase, it said it will roll out a LoRaWAN deployment this fiscal year and actively work to build an IoT network, with the goal of deploying a full set of LPWA networks, including cellular-backed Cat-M1 and NB-IoT, to ensure it can efficiently address differing IoT devices and services.
Indeed, a statement from SoftBank’s network partner Actility noted that the Japanese operator “expects to enable optimised IoT solutions which take advantage of the capabilities of cellular LTE networks alongside the LPWA network.”
Actility itself has told Mobile World Live it plans to support NB-IoT as well as LoRA in the future.
SoftBank said in a statement it aims to build a LoRaWAN ecosystem by working with Actility, Hon Hai Precision (Foxconn), the world’s largest electronics manufacturer, and Semtech, the developer of LoRa technology and founder of the LoRa Alliance.
LoRa is gaining wider acceptance in the operator community. South Korea’s SK Telecom completed the rollout of its LoRa network in July and said it wants to join hands with operators around the world to set up a global IoT roaming network based on LoRa.
KPN in the Netherlands in late June launched what it claimed was the world’s first nationwide LoRa network, while Bouygues and Orange in France are rolling out ambitious projects as well.
LoRa is one of many LPWA technologies on offer to service providers, as well as RPMA from Ingenu, and Sigfox. LPWA networks are designed to provide wide coverage, low-energy consumption and long battery life for IoT modules for small devices.
Meanwhile, the cellular camp is hoping that NB-IoT technology – ratified by the 3GPP in June – will become commercially available next year from a number of tier one mobile operators.
Commercial massive MIMO
SoftBank also announced it will be the first operator in the world to commercially deploy massive multiple-input multiple-output (MIMO) technology in base stations. It is working with its affiliate Wireless City Planning on the co-called “5G Project”, with the first step to deploy massive MIMO technology in 100 base stations across the country starting on Friday.
As a core 5G technology, massive MIMO provides mobile services simultaneously for multiple end-users by deploying a large number of antennas at base stations.
ZTE is providing SoftBank with base stations that support massive MIMO. The two firms signed a joint development agreement in July 2015 and started initial field testing in Q3 using ZTE’s pre-5G massive MIMO offering. Based on its data, ZTE said pre-5G networks will have four to six times higher throughput compared with 4G networks.