China Unicom, the country’s second largest mobile operator, is planning large-scale NB-IoT field trials in more than five cities this year and aims to start commercial deployment by the end of the year and take coverage nationwide in 2018.

Tian Wenke, GM of China Unicom’s customer department, said traditional cellular technology faces challenges in IoT applications such as coverage, battery life, service quality and module costs, which NB-IoT can solve, reported. The operator plans to run trials using the 900MHz and 1.8GHz bands.

Tian said China Unicom started R&D on NB-IoT a long time ago and a complete ecosystem has been established. It is deploying NB-IoT in Disneyland in Shanghai, which opens later this year, said.

China Mobile, the world’s largest mobile operator, also has big NB-IoT plans, prepping network commercialisation in 2017.

NB-IoT is an important LTE enhanced technology in 3GPP R-13 phase. NB-IoT standard setting has been largely completed and is scheduled to be fully ratified in June.

Chinese equipment vendor Huawei, one of the main drivers of NB-IoT, expects it to become a reality this year, while rival proprietary (non-cellular) low power wide area technologies such as LoRa and Sigfox could encounter challenges around quality of service and coverage. NB-IoT has also seen support from chipset vendors including Qualcomm, Intel and HiSilicon; module makers such as U-blox, Telit, Sierra and Gemalto; and network rivals Ericsson and Nokia.

South Korea’s KT said in March it is investing KRW150 billion ($130 million) to build an NB-IoT network for its “Internet of Small Things (IoST)” service. But rival SK Telecom will use LoRA technology.

Vodafone said two weeks ago it will roll out NB-IoT tech across “multiple markets” in 2017.