Singtel and Ericsson trialling narrowband networks for IoT

Singaporean telco Singtel is looking to enable more IoT applications through the employment of a narrowband network allowing for more connected devices.

Singtel and Ericsson have announced their collaboration on enabling Singtel's 4G network for the Internet of Things (IoT), including a trial of narrowband IoT technology during the latter half of 2016.

Instead of using cellular networks for the IoT, narrowband low-power, long-range, wide-area networks that use available, unlicensed radio spectrum could allow for extended coverage and less complex devices with higher battery life, meaning more connected devices overall.

"IoT connectivity is an important part of Singapore's enterprises, and supports the Singapore government's Smart Nation initiative. We anticipate a growing demand to connect a multitude of sensors and devices in a cost-effective manner," said Tay Soo Meng, group CTO at Singtel.

"Focusing on power-saving capabilities in our networks enables energy-efficiency benefits for the IoT ecosystem; we expect at least 10 years' battery life. With the early introduction of low-powered IoT devices, this brings us a step closer to 5G goals, where new device and sensor technologies can leverage network connectivity to power a variety of use cases, such as lighting and vehicle-to-infrastructure connectivity."

According to Ericsson, 28 billion connected devices are expected by 2021. Such devices requiring long battery lives and better coverage include temperature, air quality, and flood water sensors, Sam Saba, regional head of Ericsson South East Asia and Oceania, said.

Singtel's 4G network currently supports low-cost purpose-built Category 1 (Cat-1) IoT devices.

There has been some debate about what networks should form the backbone of the IoT, with the CEO of Australian startup National Narrowband Network (NNN) Rob Zagarella saying in November that the biggest barrier to establishing the IoT is the inherent expense in connecting so many things.

Zagarella said Australia's current mobile networks "aren't necessarily ideal to meet some of these IoT challenges", as they were set up with high average revenue per user (ARPU) in mind, with consequent significant costs and investments in spectrum.

The NNN began trialling its technology on Sydney's North Shore in August across 10 base stations covering 50-100 square kilometres, with the company aiming to roll out its wireless network nationwide. In Australia, the LoRa technology operates across the 918MHz-928MHz spectrum band.

Australian telecommunications provider Telstra likewise announced a trial of LoRaWAN technology in Melbourne with unknown suppliers, which took place between November 28 and December 3 last year.

"This trial will help inform our view on the role for the technology," a Telstra spokesperson told ZDNet.

"The IoT challenge will help Telstra understand applications that operate within the constraints of a low rate, highly efficient wireless data service of which there are several solutions available."

The Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) in December released a set of proposed changes to spectrum regulations aimed at providing easier access to spectrum for M2M operators utilising spectrum for the IoT.

Currently, IoT and M2M operators access spectrum under the ACMA's class licensing regime. The ACMA's alterations to the system would eliminate the barrier preventing them from readily accessing narrowband, low-powered networks in the 900MHz, 2.4GHz, and 5.8GHz spectrum bands for applications such as machine data and monitoring, data telemetry, smart metering, security systems, sensor networks, and industrial control.

The IoT changes would be made to the Radiocommunications Low Potential Interference Devices (LIPD) Class Licence 2015, which pre-approves usage of the radio-frequency spectrum for certain radio-communications devices that have a low potential to cause interference with other devices.

Included in the pre-approved list already are garage door openers, Bluetooth devices, anti-theft devices, e-tag systems, wireless microphones, and WLAN devices. Should the ACMA's proposal go through, more IoT devices will be added to the list as they come into widespread use.

The ACMA is looking at adding new frequency bands for in-ground ultra-wide bandwidth transmitters used in automated parking management systems; radio-determination transmitters used as industrial sensors; and analysis devices used for detecting objects in walls, ceilings, and floors.

"These proposed changes build on the already extensive arrangements in the LIPD that support a huge variety of spectrum uses in an unobtrusive way with no cost to users," ACMA chairman Chris Chapman told ZDNet last week.

"In many ways, the LIPD is the 'unsung hero' of Australia's spectrum management framework that supports the everyday use of a diverse range of devices, from Wi-Fi to baby monitors, and everything in between."

The ACMA also wants to align the usage of the 22.25-123GHz and 244-246GHz spectrum bands for short-range devices with the European system. The ACMA has plans to use a new band "for low duty cycle, low-power devices -- perfectly suited for MTM applications".

According to the ACMA, these changes will improve Australian companies' ability to technologically innovate and thereby stay ahead of the IoT curve.

The ACMA is also collaborating with the Communications Alliance IoT Alliance Executive Council in order to deal with IoT spectrum issues.

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