M1, Nokia to build Singapore NB-IoT network, roll out commercial 'heterogeneous' network

The Singapore operator launches integrated cellular network and also is working with Nokia to implement a narrowband Internet of Things network, slated to be commercially ready first-half 2017.

Singapore telco M1 has commercially launched a nationwide "heterogeneous network" (HetNet), tapping Nokia's small cells and Wi-Fi equipment, and is also building a narrowband Internet of Things (NB-IoT) network with the networking gear manufacturer.

One of several key components in the country's smart nation initiative, HetNet had been touted to facilitate more optimal use of wireless spectrum by enabling devices to switch between various types of wireless networks. This would allow mobile users to roam seamlessly between different networks.

M1 had been trialling its HetNet for more than a year, which included locations along Orchard Road and at MRT stations. Its pilot had tapped indoor and outdoor small cells, and seen to improve download speeds by up to 60 percent, according to the telco.

M1 said it would progressively deploy Nokia's Flexi Zone systems across more than 500 high-traffic hotspots nationwide. These would be areas with high consumer traffic and would include MRT and LRT stations, shopping malls, and outdoor areas such as Marina Bay. In addition, the smaller footprint of small cells would enable deployment in hard-to-reach areas such as car parks, basements, and parks.

The HetNet would complement M1's 4G+ network and, together with LTE-WiFi Aggregation (LWA) technology, the telco added that it was expecting to provide peak download speeds of more than 1Gbps by 2017.

A network for Singapore's IoT ecosystem

M1 also would be working with Nokia to implement a nationwide NB-IoT network, touted to be a more efficient way to support IoT communications.

Because IoT deployments would typically be of large scale and massive, supporting billions of such devices on regular communications networks--alongside other consumer applications--would not be most conducive. IoT devices also were unlikely to have bandwidth-intensive requirements since only data, and not video or voice, would need to be transmitted. And due to its scale, IoT deployments needed to be low-cost and resource efficient.

To better cater to these key attributes, GSMA standards body 3GPP finalised NB-IoT standards in June this year and commercial devices were expected to be available by mid-2017.

M1 added that NB-IoT networks and devices were designed to deliver improved network performance for M2M (machine-to-machine) communications, which were low-bandwidth, needed robust indoor penetration and had low power consumption.

A spokesperson told ZDNet that IoT applications that still needed regular network support, such as to facilitate security or video requirements, would remain on its core network. For standard IoT applications, such as utility monitoring, which would not require high bandwidth and were low-cost, he added, these would be suitable for the NB-IoT network.

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Slated to be commercially ready by first-half 2017, the M1 nationwide network would be built on the mobile operator's existing network, so a separate infrastructure would not need to be deployed from scratch.

The spokesperson added that there would be some additional hardware deployment as well as integration with the telco's existing network.

M1 said its initial investment into the HetNet and NB-IoT network would come up to more than S$50 million (US$37.19 million), with additional investments to be included progressively to enhance and upgrade the networks.

The Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (MPA) had expressed interest in the telco's NB-IoT network and was holding discussions on potential projects, though, no deals had been confirmed just yet.

MPA Chief Executive Andrew Tan said: "[We are] pleased to work with M1 to promote greater connectivity and productivity in the maritime sector, particularly with growing interest in smart ships and ports. NB-IoT will enable MPA and its partners to explore the deployment of a network of offshore sensors to augment the situational awareness of our port waters."

M1 CEO Karen Kooi added that the telco's partnership with Nokia would help build Singapore's IoT ecosystem and support initiatives in this market, including fleet management, smart metering, and public safety.

Other telcos in Singapore as well as the region also were dabbling in the IoT technology. Singtel in February said it was partnering Ericsson to conduct tests on NB-IoT, while Vodafone Australia in May completed trials of its NB-IoT network in Melbourne, which was conducted in partnership with Huawei.

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