Partner Interview: Ahead of GSMA’s Mobile 360 Middle East event in Dubai, Mobile World Live spoke to Lin Yanqing, VP Marketing, Huawei Middle East, who discussed the development of Low Power Wide Area (LPWA) networks, and the company’s ambitions to drive NarrowBand IoT (NB-IoT) technology. Yanqing outlined Huawei’s LPWA strategy, and opened up on some of the projects the company has been working on with operators to drive IoT in the Middle East.

MWL: What is LPWA?
Yanqing: Low-power wide-area (LPWA) wireless technology is the response to the need for ubiquitous, battery-efficient, professionally managed, and out-of-the-box connectivity to unlock massive value for tens to hundreds of billions of devices, up to 100K/cell. It addresses challenges of power and coverage issued for some specific applications such as water/gas meter, smart parking, tracking.

Unlike prior wireless technologies (mesh, cellular, Wi-Fi, local RF), LPWA provides battery efficient, ubiquitous wide-area connectivity, up to 20dB coverage gain over GSM and inexpensive connectivity for the widely disbursed, low-cost devices whose economics require up to 10 years of battery.

MWL: What is Huawei’s LPWA strategy?
Yanqing: Huawei sees the future of LPWA in Narrow Band IoT (NB-IoT). It helps mobile operators embrace new opportunities while leveraging existing cellular technologies.

NB-IoT is based on 3GPP standard and uses licensed spectrum which, compared to unlicensed solutions such as LoRa and Sigfox, helps operators offer reliable, secured and guaranteed quality of services.

MWL: When will NB-IoT be commercialised?
Yanqing: The NB-IoT standard was frozen in June 2016, and the first commercial network will be available from Q4 2016.

The first commercial chipset will be available in Q4 2016, but a small scale availability started in September 2016 for some selected operators.

MWL: As the standard was frozen in June, ecosystem development remains one of the biggest challenges for bringing NB-IoT to life. How do you plan to address this challenge?
Yanqing: Indeed, the ecosystem is still one of the biggest challenges for IoT development and commercialisation. This is mainly due to fragmented and increased number of alliances, standards bodies around IoT, and the lack of openness and a unified OS for the things.

To address this issue, Huawei has undertaken several initiatives that are aimed at accelerating IoT ecosystem development regionally and globally.

Earlier this year, Huawei announced its global IoT OpenLab initiative aimed at developing products and applications relating to NB-IoT and other IoT technologies. The global 7 labs provide a pre-integration testing environment for application developers and device, module and chip manufacturers.

In the Middle East, UAE OpenLab was launched together with Etisalat and offers support for developers and partners across the region. They will work with both Huawei and operators to explore cutting edge developments including network solution verification, new application innovation, device integration, and product compliance certification.

MWL: What are the major LPWA verticals that Middle East (ME) operators should target?
Yanqing: In the Middle East, IoT development has been mainly sparked by smart city mega projects initiated by governments which have deployed individual national strategies that aim to leverage innovation to drive long-term sustainability. The potential LPWA market segments in ME include smart metering, smart parking, street lighting, and tracking, etc.

MWL: What is Huawei’s IoT business model strategy to help operators quickly develop IoT services in the region?
As IoT is developing in the region, the implication of business model innovation is unavoidable and important for an industry with multiple fragmented verticals. Different applications or market segments will require different business models, making it difficult for traditional businesses not to take advantage of the whole market opportunity.

Huawei provides Middle East operators with flexible business models supporting both CAPEX and OPEX models.

Moreover, Huawei is also keen to work with different partners to drive IoT development and commercialisation in the region. Huawei believes that through joint investments and collaboration between manufacturers, operators, ICT providers, application software developers, research institutes, and even governments, it can help accelerate IoT development and adoption.

MWL: Could you share with us some of the projects you have been working on with telcos in this region in developing IoT?
Yanqing: Huawei has been very aggressive at developing and commercialising IoT in the region, and is actively working with Middle East operators to help them stay at the forefront of global IoT development.

Following a successful live demo at GITEX 2015, Huawei and Etisalat launched the first NB-IoT based smart parking pilot trial network in UAE in April 2016.

Globally, Huawei has conducted several NB-IoT trials including smart metering with SEW in Australia, smart parking with China Unicom, trash bin with TMO in Germany, street lighting with LGU+ in Korea.