Vodafone appears to be ahead of schedule in preparing for a commercial launch of low power wide area (LPWA) IoT networks next year, announcing that it has completed the “world’s first” trial of standardised NB-IoT on a live commercial network, in partnership with Huawei.
The over the air connection was successfully completed in Madrid, Spain, with engineers from both companies using a live 4G base station support NB-IoT technology. It was made using the 800MHz licenced spectrum frequency band.
Vodafone has been a big backer of the NB-IoT specification for LPWA networks, designed to connect billions of objects through low power, cost effectively, and in difficult to reach locations. Touted use cases include smoke and fire alarms, ‘smart bins’ and gas and water metering.
The company said earlier this year it was targeting a first trial in November, but it has beaten its own goals.
In a statement, the company said the test “is the last important milestone before the commercial launch of NB-IoT” in early 2017.
“This first successful trial of NB-IoT on a live commercial network is a significant technology milestone on the path towards a world with billions of devices connected at extremely low cost with minimal power requirements to mobile networks” said Matt Beal, Vodafone’s group director of technology architecture and strategy.
NB-IoT was only ratified as a 3GPP standard in June and faces strong competition from non-cellular LPWA technologies that are already deployed in unlicensed spectrum bands, such as Sigfox, RPMA and LoRa.
In its statement, Vodafone stressed that NB-IoT “will be supported by more than 20 of the world’s largest operators, who provide communications to over 2.9 billion customers and geographically serve over 90 per cent of the IoT market.”
And Vodafone is confident that it can deploy the technology across its huge footprint. In June Vodafone Group R&D director Luke Ibbetson was bullish on how quickly its LTE network can be upgraded to support NB-IoT. He claimed more than 85 per cent of its European LTE sites operating in 800MHz spectrum can be upgraded via software.
“This is a very important result for us…. it’s important to our goal of rolling this tech out as quickly as possible,” he told a conference in Amsterdam.
By 2020, Vodafone aims to have all its LTE sites supporting NB-IoT technology.