Vodafone and Huawei complete NB-IoT trials in Australia

Trials of NB-IoT across Melbourne with network technology partner Huawei have been 'successful', according to Vodafone.

Vodafone Australia has completed its trial of narrowband Internet of Things (NB-IoT) technology across Melbourne, calling the wireless low-power wide-area network tests a success.

The trials, conducted in April in partnership with Chinese technology giant Huawei, were carried out over a number of live sites in suburban and central Melbourne.

The network operator was able to attain greater depth and distance -- to the tune of penetrating through three double-brick walls in depth, and up to 30km in distance -- in coverage using NB-IoT in comparison to 2G, 3G, and 4G, according to Vodafone CTO Benoit Hanssen.

Using narrowband networks for the IoT will allow for more devices to be connected to 4G networks at a lower cost, Hanssen said.

"The benefits of NB-IoT include deeper and further coverage, up to 10 years battery life, increased scalability with up to 100,000 devices per cell, and low cost of modem chipsets forecasted at less than AU$5," said Hanssen.

"We're hearing a lot of hype about 5G at the moment, but there is still plenty of mileage left in 4G, such as NB-IoT."

NB-IoT will also be significant for the health, agricultural, automotive, and utilities industries, Vodafone Australia executive general manager for Enterprise Business Stuart Kelly said.

"The types of products we could see utilising this technology are gas and water metering, smart bins, alarms and detectors, and parking monitoring," Kelly explained.

Vodafone Australia and Huawei will continue carrying out trials over the coming months across Australia. In Singapore, the latter half of 2016 will similarly see telecommunications provider Singtel collaborating with Ericsson on trialling NB-IoT technology across its network.

Huawei and Vodafone last month also opened an open lab in Newbury, UK, dedicated to the research and development (R&D) of NB-IoT technology and applications, with Huawei planning to open six more across the globe.

The lab will provide a testing environment for application developers and chip, module, and device manufacturers, the companies said.

Vodafone Group R&D director Luke Ibbetson said the two have been working on NB-IoT technology standards for the past year, with the open lab to build on this progress.

"The new labs will be critical to the next phase of development, which is to build a vibrant NB-IoT ecosystem," Ibbetson said.

Huawei in April said that with NB-IoT standards due to be "frozen" in June, it has been undertaking trials across the globe ahead of its own NB-IoT announcement in the second half of 2016.

A consortium of tech giants and telecommunications carriers have been collaborating for several years on cellular NB-IoT for various reasons, including the cost, scale, and security inherent in connecting millions of IoT devices.

Smart parking has been trialled worldwide by Huawei over the past few years, with the company announcing alongside China Unicom in July 2015 that they would be collaborating on rolling out smart parking to the Shanghai Disney Resort.

Huawei's president of Products and Solutions Ryan Ding also recently discussed Huawei's core strategy for the IoT itself, outlining a three-pronged approach.

The foundational layer of this involves what he called Huawei's "lite OS", which enables low-latency and energy-saving things to be connected to the IoT. The second layer involves collaboration between wired and wireless connections to ensure that connectivity is ubiquitous and coverage is enhanced. The third and final step is to invest in a cloud-based IoT connectivity management platform by which Huawei can ensure tens of millions of connections of devices, and fast integration of these.

"Our strategy on IoT is to focus on connectivity," added Huawei CEO Eric Xu.

"And that's going to be an intrinsic part of our mission around building a better-connected world ... connecting more things to the network."

Huawei has been working on a chipset and modules to promote the development of IoT for its partners to take advantage of, while also collaborating with telcos to come up with a standard that is "conducive for the carrier network to carry more IoT connections".

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