New Zealand’s two largest mobile operators announced plans to roll out low-power wide-area (LPWA) networks to support the expected surge in IoT applications over the coming years, with Vodafone and Spark opting for rival technologies in the first wave of deployments.

Vodafone New Zealand said it will deploy a narrowband-IoT (NB-IoT) network in early 2018.

The operator, the country’s largest with a 39 per cent market share, tested NB-IoT with its technology partner Nokia in September 2016 and plans to pilot the technology with a select group of business customers in late 2017, before a network rollout early next year.

NB-IoT is a LPWA technology that uses dedicated bandwidth and licensed spectrum to deliver secure coverage across vast geographical areas. It is one of three cellular technologies the GSMA is touting as an enabler of LPWA networks (the other two are LTE-M and EC-GSM-IoT). All three were standardised by the 3GPP in 2016 and are playing catchup with unlicensed LPWA offerings already established in the market, such as Sigfox and LoRa.

Vodafone technology director Tony Baird said there are many IoT networks available now, but “we think NB-IoT is a premium technology choice that is worth waiting for. It is supported by over 40 of the world’s largest mobile operators, plus many more suppliers and innovators that serve the majority of the global IoT market”.

He said Vodafone already has more than 1.4 million connected devices operating across its 2G network in New Zealand.

Vodafone’s announcement comes shortly after an IoT Alliance report estimating a NZD2.2 billion ($1.6 million) IoT market opportunity for New Zealand industries over the next ten years. The report aligns with IDC predictions New Zealand will be Asia-Pacific’s third most mature market in terms of IoT units per capita by 2020, with the agricultural sector a key growth driver.

Different track
Meanwhile, the country’s second largest mobile operator Spark said it started developing a nationwide LPWA network based on the non-cellular LoRa standard.

Spark’s GM for IoT, Michael Stribling, said the IoT network is being developed by Kordia, which started initial network design of the LoRa network, with a “significant proportion” of the network expected to be operational by June 2018.

He said Spark contracted Actility, a global platform provider for LoRa networks, to provide a platform and support the deployment of the network.

Spark also plans to deploy cellular-based IoT networks – LTE-M1 and NB-IoT – a little further down the road: “We believe there are different use cases emerging for different IoT networks, depending on the level and type of data that needs to be transmitted by IoT devices,” Stribling said.