Telstra to enable narrowband IoT network in 2017

Telstra's network designed specifically for narrowband IoT applications will be enabled at the beginning of next year, with its IoT software platform also ready.

Telstra has announced that it is "just weeks" from launching its narrowband Internet of Things (NB-IoT) network, with the lower-band network slated to be enabled at the beginning of calendar 2017.

Speaking at Utility Week in Sydney on Wednesday morning, Ranil Sharma, industry lead for Utilities at Telstra Global Enterprise and Services, said Telstra is currently undertaking an upgrade to enable more IoT applications across its networks, and at a lower cost.

"We're going through a network upgrade at the moment to deliver more narrowband capability," Sharma said.

"We've had broader-band capability with our mobile networks for a while now; in the new calendar year, so we're only weeks away, we'll have the lower-band network enabled, so you're going to have the very narrowband enabled and the Cat-M enabled.

"Once the network's enabled, you can start to develop the applications, the edge vendors are able to start to develop the network interface cards and the modems that can support these, and then, as they start to build in volume, obviously the cost comes down, which is critical for the IoT-type scenarios, we will start to get cost-effective solutions, and then the networks that carry them."

Sharma said the telecommunications provider has made investments in hardware, software, and networks in the lead-up to IoT; the telco has been focused on infrastructure as a service, big data platforms, analytics, insights, and an IoT software platform, the last of which he called "really, really critical for where we're at".

"We've been spending a lot of time, effort, money, and investment not only at that technical engineering level, but at a process network strategy level, and an investment level in terms of mergers and acquisitions, and at a partner and ecosystem level," he said.

Sharma pointed towards the telco's intelligent water management solution and its Smart Home offering as examples of IoT devices that it is pushing solutions for to both consumers and business.

Telstra launched its first swathe of Smart Home products and pricing packages earlier this month, including smart power plugs, cameras, lightbulbs, motion sensors, a door lock, and a thermostat.

When unveiling the Smart Home, Telstra pointed towards the narrowband network as the future network of choice for IoT.

"We're more attracted to the narrowband IoT spectrum with our partner Ericsson, and that's the beauty of the smart home platform: We will be working with connected car, sensors, trackers, narrowband etc. All of those will interact with this platform," John Chambers, executive director of Home and Premium Services, said at the time.

Sharma added that Telstra is also addressing the security concerns tied up in connecting and collecting data from so many devices by layering the security in with the service layer.

"If we think about an intelligent utility, and we still are a utility in many ways, you need to have that service and applications layer, which is the interface, not the technology. We need to have the ability to be mobile, whether it's in the technology, in the device, the outcome, the application, and how you're using it," he said.

"Obviously, it's got to be extremely secure, because when we're having this massive explosion of data, and all of the things required to collect, collate, and transport, interpret, store, and then process out to where it needs to go, there are many, many points of vulnerability."

Sharma also said that Telstra is planning to be a player across both unlicensed and licensed spectrum so as to ensure IoT as a viable revenue stream into the future -- although he emphasised that the licensed spectrum option would provide customers with assured levels of quality and support.

"There's licensed and unlicensed spectrum; in licensed, you're basically allocated spectrum, and you build technologies and applications on ... 2G, 3G, 4G, 5G, and they're guaranteed in terms of quality of service and support, and they would be more what are considered telco branding," he explained.

"Then you have unlicensed ... there's an application for all of these."

Telstra began trialling LoRaWAN network technology, which operates across unlicensed spectrum and is backed by IBM and Cisco, in November last year.

Sharma's statements followed comments on Tuesday from Cisco Australia CTO Kevin Bloch, who said that telcos would not necessarily benefit the most from IoT and connecting the 50 billion devices forecast, because there is a strong advocacy for the use of unlicensed spectrum from the National Narrowband Network Company (NNN Co) and others.

"The world in wireless is breaking up into two sort of streams -- one is the licensed spectrum," Bloch said.

"But then you've got the other world of unlicensed spectrum. It's called low-power, wide-area, where in the unlicensed spectrum, anybody can play.

"Our partner NNN Co is already deploying a LoRa-based technology to connect in the unlicensed space over longer distance, I'm talking 10, 20 kilometres, with much lower power. This new world of connectivity [is] opening up because of the Internet of Things."

Similarly, research firm New Street Research said earlier this year that while the IoT will bring in profit for vendors and networking companies, it won't be a viable source of revenue for telcos.

"I'm perfectly prepared to accept that the Internet of Things is extraordinarily interesting to equipment makers and vendors, to systems integrators, to policy makers, and to people concerned with the social role of communications services in our lives, but there is an awful lot of noise about the Internet of Things that doesn't actually translate into, to put it strongly, a whole hell of beans for the telecoms operator who's looking to sell services to achieve revenue per customer or revenue per device," Andrew Entwistle, New Street Research partner, said in June.

"I can't see any business case for a telecoms operator."

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