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Who will be the world's first operator to deploy a nationwide IoT network?
April 21, 2016 | By Dongjun Kwon, etnews (djkwon@etnews.com)
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[Issue analysis-1] IoST era begins with initiatives for a nationwide IoT network deployment


IoT, the next generation growth engine in the mobile communication industry, is finally unveiled. South Korea-based SK Telecom and KT, geared up with cutting-edge IoT technologies including LoRa, LTE-M, and NB IoT, etc., are to be in fierce competition to deploy the nation's (and world's) first nationwide IoT network. Whichever solution manages to make a soft landing on the market will be the winner and have a chance to secure competitiveness and dominance there first.
Competition in the mobile communication ecosystem has become more intense than ever. Operators are leading and a number of small and medium-sized vendors of equipment, modules and base stations are closely following. Now the destination is set to a nationwide IoT network, and players of all sizes and ages are ready to join the race to discover new business models for the new network faster.   


LoRa, best suited for ecosystem thanks to its custom-built network service  


The race for the world's first nationwide IoT network began in March 2015 when SK Telecom and KT announced their plans to deploy a nationwide Low-Power Wide-Area Network (LPWAN). LPWAN is an Internet of Small Things (IoST) technology that would work best for industrial IoT purpose. In fact, there have been some deployments of LPWAN in select areas of North America and Europe, but not nationwide yet.   


To be the 'world's first' operator with a nationwide IoT network, the two operators must complete the deployment quick - no later than the end of the year. Deployment of a nationwide IoT network is all about timing. Once commercialization and standardization processes for LPWAN are completed, players from all around the world will join the race, making the competition even stiffer.
SK Telecom, the first who joined the race, chose LoRa which is capable of supporting speeds of 10 Kbps, and covering around 10 km in range (outdoors). LoRa can offer a quite versatile network environment, whether private or public network, and can be easily adopted by IoT device users, enterprises or organizations, whoever needs security solutions. This brings the possibility of implementing 'area-specific' IoT services. Because of the benefits, it is widely believed that LoRa has managed to position itself pretty well as a leading solution for nationwide IoT network deployment.


LoRa is not compatible with legacy networks. So for the solution to work in the legacy networks, it requires new installation of a base station (as big as a WiFi AP) and a small antenna. It can be a little expensive, but many manufacturers of base station, antenna, power supply units, etc. can also join the project, supplying new types of equipment in need. LoRa Alliance with over 150 company members, including SK Telecom, can help develop customized networks and open ecosystems. 
LTE-M, capable of quick transition to IoT-focused network, gives an advantage to operators


LTE-M chosen by KT is a little different from LPWAN solutions which have become globally accepted standards such as LoRa, Sigfox, Ingenu, etc. because it uses licensed frequencies like NB-IoT. LTE-M has already been defined as global standards in 3GPP’s Release 8.


The strength of LTE-M is that it is readily deployable in any legacy LTE networks as opposed to LoRa which requires installation of base stations within the coverage. This means faster provision of IoT service at reduced network deployment costs.  
Another strength of the solution would be that because it uses licensed bands, no interferences is caused unlike LoRa or Sigfox that use unlicensed bands where interference is inevitable.   


KT stressed, "LTE-M gives the ability to offer services nationwide, and does not cause any service quality degradation arising from frequency interference." It also explained, "With LTE-M, you can control communication equipment, and provide global roaming service over the LTE network."


People in the industry see LTE-M provides an operator-centric IoT environment, compared to LPWAN (such as LoRa and Sigfox) which are more of startups-driven. LTE-M gives operators an advantage in that it lets them leverage their legacy LTE infra, and even develop IoT services utilizing unused frequencies.   


There is still some concern that LTE-M may underperform LoRa when it comes to establishment of an ecosystem, because it arrived at the market after LoRa, and it is an operator-centric IoT environment. Obviously, LoRa Alliance is like Goliath, with over 10 device module manufacturers, 4 base stations manufacturers, and network server solution developers, closely working together. A person in the industry said, "KT announced a plan to nurture various ecosystems as well as deploy a nationwide IoT network." He explained, "It was an effort made to overcome the limit of LTE-M, which is at a disadvantage compared to LoRa with already well-established cooperative relationship."
Crouching tiger Sigfox and hidden dragon NB-IoT


Apparently, the two top players in the race for deployment of a nationwide IoT network are LoRa and LTE-M. But, there are some who deserve our attention, like Sigfox and NB-IoT.


Sigfox, by the same-named French company, supports speeds of 100 bps, the lowest of all IoST technologies available, but is best-optimized for transmission of simple texts and numbers only. The company made an attempt to form an alliance with KT in Korea, but failed because of disagreement about investment scale.


Sigfox's influence in the global market including the UK, USA, Russia, Spain, Netherland, etc. is still not negligible. The company is teaming up with Samsung, making the technology more competitive. An interested person in the industry noted, "Although SK Telecom and KT have already decided on what tools to use for their deployment of the world's first nationwide IoT network, Sigfox still remains a strong candidate. With a right operator and right service, it would not be difficult for Sigfox to build a nationwide network as well. The company is known to have drawn over KRW 100 billion (USD 87 million) of investment from South Korean companies, including SK Telecom.





Conceptual diagram of LPWAN for IoST


Provides coverage wider than short-range communication solutions like WiFi, Zigbee, Bluetooth, etc., at the prices lower than mobile communication like LTE, UMTS, etc.  


LPWA Market by the numbers (unit: USD 1 billion)


Source: 'Current status and prospect of IoT market' by Jaeheon Park (at KT DIGIECO)




[Issue Analysis-2] As IoST commercialization begins, a sound ecosystem will be the key


LoRa base station developed by  Contela, Samsung, and SK Telesys, and presented by SK Telecom

Now, most people have become familiar with IoT, most likely, thanks to smart home-related services provided by operators. Unlike short-range (up to just tens of meters at most) wireless networks designed to cover relatively small areas like homes, offices, etc., (e.g. Bluetooth, ZigBee, WiFi, etc.), an nationwide IoT network allows coverage within up to several kilometers, thereby extending service areas. Operators who commenced deployment of a nationwide IoT network are poised to present new services, and actively leading development of an ecosystem where startups and vendors can cooperate with one another closely as they sure know it is not one man's job.


The concepts of a nationwide IoT network proposed by SK Telecom and KT are more of IoST, which is specifically aimed for slower speeds. Unlike IoT services offered through TVs, phones and smartphones, mostly handling video or audio data, IoST only needs to handle data in smaller volume, compared to IoT. Let's take remote utility metering (e.g. gas, electricity, etc.) at homes or plants as an example.


With IoST, metering can be performed remotely over the network without having to visit every home or plant. Also, monthly usage can be monitored and analyzed to be used as big data. Because data in this case consists of numbers and strings only, it does not require 3G or LTE. This is why an IoST-focused network is particularly called "Low Power Wide Area Network (LPWAN)".
SK Telecom agreed that it is not one man's job; no one service provider can offer all IoT services alone. So, the company is planning to use LPWAN as a platform to be used as a nationwide playing field where vendors and startups can make their ideas real. IoST can help services to expand to areas, ranging from public services, like missing child prevention solution, public bike rental, remote utilities metering, and smart parking, to culture/tourism-related services like guided tours, smart performance. KT is also helping to boost IoT service development through investment in fund. It aims to increase the number of IoST-connected devices up to 4 million by 2018. KT has already completed development of new services like anti-theft solution for bike, smart blood transportation, smart lighting, etc.    
The success of leading a nationwide IoT market lies on whether a sound ecosystem can be established or not. That's why operators made their positions clear that they would cooperate with startups and vendors in deploying a nationwide IoT network. Mr. Jinhyo Park, Head of Network R&D Center, noted, "When it comes to deploying a nationwide IoT network, it is almost impossible for an operator to work alone without cooperation with partners." He added "We will continue to make efforts in every aspect to work with partners, ranging from hardware suppliers to service providers, in order to develop new businesses and expand them nationwide."  


[Issue Analysis-3] Slow-delivering and longer-lasting IoT chips and modules are wanted in IoST era
With IoT service being launched nationwide, competition in speed and price among manufacturers of chips and modules used in IoT devices has begun as well. Anyone who can present a chip that features lower data transmission rate and power consumption will be the leader in the industrial IoT market.  


LoRa modem chip, the underlying technology of SK Telecom's project for building a nationwide IoT network, is made by Semtech. SK Telecom will be using a wide range of device modules from different manufacturers, including microchips. Base stations are usually supplied by Kerlink and Cisco. SK Telecom has already demonstrated a base station co-developed by Contela, Samsung, and SK Telesys at the Mobile World Congress earlier this year. Once the project kicks off, a lot of players in the communication market of the nation will join.


Building a nationwide IoT network is considered as equipment investment, which means a lot of domestic and global partnerships among operators, equipment vendors, part suppliers, SW developers are involved. KT teamed up with Telit, Techplex, and AM Telecom and developed an IoT module for commercialization of a nationwide IoT network.


Even LG U+, who did not come up with a blueprint for a nationwide IoT network, is getting prepared too. The company announced it, in cooperation with LG Innotek, developed a low power LTE module. The module, specifically designed for IoST purpose, is 30% less expensive than other conventional modules. It is also 50% smaller in size, and thus can easily fit in many wearable devices. 
The industry believes the key to success is to offer slow speeds as most IoT services to be offered nationwide are actually IoST-based services. The speed of ready-to-go LTE-M is also reduced to under 10 Mbps. But, most people agree that tens ~ hundreds of Kbps of speeds will be most ideal in a nationwide IoT network. A person familiar with the matter explained, "The IoT chip industry is looking for a solution that allows for slower data delivery to stay competitive... because it would delay or eliminate the needs for any equipment replacement for longer." This clearly indicates that the industry wants solutions that can minimize equipment maintenance costs as the installation will be nationwide. The slower communication, the less power consumption. And the network can last longer.
Chip prices matter too. The prices of chips to be used in practically standardized technologies like LoRa and Sigfox are expected to be around $5. LTE-based IoT technologies should be priced at moderate levels as well to be competitive.  


Debasish (Nokia Networks) via LinkedIn 2016-04-26 09:47:36

Korean 3 will be always ahead in this race...Technology like LORA and LTE-M will play a big role. But we should not ignore the wifi role in IOT.

Jan (Eltel Networks) via LinkedIn 2016-04-26 10:41:25

great overview of alternative IoT connectivity solutions.

Abdallah (Freelance Consultant) via Link 2016-04-26 12:15:44

Great insights. The deployment of IoT and selecting the technology to obtain IoT services will depend on the existing infrastructure and how to get the new technology installed with a minimal cost and service disruptions impacts. 

Also, it depends upon the reliability and the data security end to end. 

The data rate also will be a decision factor which us associated with the application being used. For example telemetry information requires low bandwidth while video streams from remote security system require high bandwidth.

The bottom line, the easy deployment, standardized system , cost, service availability and reliability, and application requirements will drive the future technology deployment. 

Rosie (T-Mobile) via LinkedIn 2016-04-26 14:43:28

Great information! And pretty exciting too

Onofre (Spreadtrum) via LinkedIn 2016-04-26 17:51:22

Great insight, really appreciate your article, I think all different technologies will be succesfull as there are different need of bandwith and data transmission period for IoT devices. Example, videocamera will need IoT over LTE, but for simple sensor like Temparature Sigfox is most accurate technology and most competitive. The key as conclusion will be cost, more for developping countries (Asia, LATAM, Africa) to be adopted by companies to modernize their process or infrastructure, for consumers, need more killers apps before adopting...Thats other challenge!

devendraeck 2016-04-26 19:43:34

Nice Article.......Thanks 

Anil (STS Solutions) via LinkedIn 2016-04-27 10:09:03

Great insights. Technologies very well covered

Johan (WRD Systems) via LinkedIn 2016-04-27 13:59:35

And to think we have a lovely coverage over 2G, with cheap and readily available modules... but no, let's phase that out. And of course, let's do it differently between the US (2G gone) and Europe (3G gone before 2G). 4G modules? Yeah, not really: too expensive, physically too large. So now you end up building umpteen different devices if you want to target different markets. Or wait until one of the mentioned ones in the article actually provide decent coverage (not just the city centers).

Look, M2M tends to be pretty mobile. Things like asset management, vehicle tracking, equipment location, etc. These things need a reliable network with proper coverage. 2G was great for this, and we didn't have to wait for it to be deployed.

Karin (EDHEC Business School) via Linked 2016-04-28 10:13:48

my bet is on sigfox. they are already deploying internationally...

Johan (WRD Systems) via LinkedIn 2016-05-03 10:17:51

SigFox is useless for many applications since it is limited to 12 byte per message at a maximum of 140 messages per day. Sure, great for control messages and certain types of monitoring, but anything that needs a bit more data, or that needs proper security (AES operates on 16 byte blocks + IV, etc.) is out...

Manikandan (Mitel Mobility) via LinkedIn 2016-05-04 10:39:15

Great article. Considering sheer anticipated volume of IoT "devices",to monetize, operator may want to control the IoT market segment though it may give low ARPU. So, a solution which is easily deployeable (extending already deployed solution) and which reduces CAPEX/OPEX for the introduction of IoT services may be the preferred route for the operators. IMHO, technologies such as LTE-M, NB LTE-M which gives clear path to 3GPP 5G STD deployment for IoT may the preferred choice for most of the operators, if not all.

Netmanias 2016-05-12 13:31:01

Thank you everyone for reading and sharing your valuable insights!

Lee (Tele2) via LinkedIn 2016-05-25 11:12:02

It's what Tele2 are aiming for via their Partner ecosystem. Happy to discuss with anyone.

Welington (CPqD) via LinkedIn 2016-05-26 11:17:03

Great insight. Is not to much think that this technologies can be deployed together in different levels for IoT by operators for maximize their business.

Netmanias 2016-05-29 04:14:12

Thanks for reading and your comment.

xiaoping liu 2016-06-03 12:19:35

May I know what software is used in drawing such nice diagram?

guruwigi 2016-09-01 19:32:49

:-) Well constructed article, "minor" errors with the information presented regarding LoRa:

- LoRa Alliance Members as at time of writing of this article = 330 Members. Today, 1 Sept 2016 = 370 Members

- LPWAN technology table is incorrect: 

  • LoRa Coverage up to 15kms (greater depending on topography, city/urban/suburban etc)
  • LoRa Data Rate = Adaptive Data Rate from 300bps - 50Kbps
  • LoRa = True Open Ecosystem of End-to-End suppliers from sensors to network & application servers

For more information (and up-to-date & accurate information) please visit www.semtech.com/wireless-rf/internet-of-things/  



amer7909 2017-07-19 21:29:22

very good article , thanks

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