Italy-based operators TIM and Vodafone Italia faced off with separate announcements regarding NB-IoT deployments: the former claiming a commercial first for the country; the latter detailing a major investment in rollout.

TIM stated it activated the low-power wide-area (LPWA) IoT technology in 5,000 municipalities across Italy and the technology would be available across 75 per cent of its 4G LTE network by end-October. The operator plans to complete nationwide rollout of NB-IoT in January 2018, noting its 4G network offers 97 per cent coverage across the nation.

The first commercial applications will be in smart meters for gas, water, and electricity transmission and distribution networks. TIM said NB-IoT will also open up a range of other services, and provide some key elements of a future 5G rollout.

TIM participated in an NB-IoT trial conducted by business products manufacturer Olivetti in April, which automatically sent meter readings over TIM’s network to water company Società Metropolitana Acque Torino. Olivetti is developing a “rich portfolio” of products for NB-IoT, TIM stated.

Vodafone Italia, meanwhile, announced plans to invest more than €10 million on its own NB-IoT deployment.

In a statement, the operator announced rollout of the network began this month in south and central Italy, with expansion into northern regions due to commence in January 2018. The operator will match TIM’s nationwide coverage by March 2019.

The company also detailed plans to open an NB-IoT innovation laboratory in Milan to enable companies and local government authorities to trial potential applications. The facility will build on experience gained at similar Vodafone centres in Spain, Germany, and the UK, while the network itself will benefit from commercial launches by Vodafone in Spain and Republic of Ireland. The operator’s Australian arm recently heralded the launch of the technology there as a first.

Each operator talked up NB-IoT benefits including the low energy consumption and long (ten year) battery life of compatible devices. TIM noted NB-IoT also offers a seven-time improvement in coverage compared to GSM, while Vodafone explained a 20dB improvement in the propagation of the radio signal makes NB-IoT ideal for covering “remote, rural and underground areas”.

NB-IoT is one of three cellular-based LPWA technologies standardised by 3GPP which use licensed spectrum. Other variants of the technology included in the standards are LTE-M and EC-GSM-IoT.