CES 2018: Telstra NB-IoT network now live

Telstra has used CES 2018 to announce the launch of its NB-IoT network across all capital and major regional cities in Australia.
Written by Corinne Reichert, Contributor

Telstra has announced at CES 2018 that its narrowband Internet of Things (NB-IoT) network is now live across all major cities in Australia, including not only capital cities but also major regional cities.

According to Telstra COO Robyn Denholm, the NB-IoT network will provide connectivity for IoT devices with smaller packets of data being sent than the applications using its Cat-M1 IoT network, such as sensors in the mining, agricultural, transport, logistics, manufacturing, and industrial IoT industries.

"We're using both protocols," Denholm told ZDNet.

"The two cover sort of different use cases; the Cat-M1 is more devices that are on the move that need hundreds of kilobits per second, whereas the NB-IoT are very small packets of information."

Telstra has also qualified its first set of NB-IoT devices out of an Australian suppler, Denholm told ZDNet, which are just 3cm square in size.

"That device is already certified on the narrowband IoT and we've also got a few hundred devices in the pipeline as well, because you need to have them certified to make sure you've got the security protocols and all that sort of stuff," she said.

Telstra CEO Andy Penn told ZDNet that the NB-IoT network is not yet as extensive as the telco's Cat-M1 IoT network, but that it will "ultimately be that sort of level of coverage".

"We've been working on [the NB-IoT network] for some time ... IoT is an important strategic vector, and it's a bet that was made a couple of years ago in terms of actually leaning into IoT," Denholm explained.

"This is sort of the next step, enabling the protocols in the mobile network."

Denholm explained to ZDNet that Telstra is using network slicing for some NB-IoT applications, usually as a way of assuring quality of service and mitigating security threats.

"As part of our networks of the future program, [we're] doing SDN and NFV -- that enables network slicing. So if there was a threat vector, so let's pretend a particular set of devices were attacked, or there was some sort of security incident or that type of thing, if you have a slice you minimise the blast zone," she explained.

See also: CES 2018 special coverage (CNET)

"So that's the importance -- slicing gives you a sort of ability to quarantine or maybe even have a different service level."

Also as part of its networks of the future program, Denholm said Telstra is moving from having discrete access layers across its fixed, mobile, and enterprise networks to having "more of a unified access".

"In terms of the edge and the core, previous generations of networks would have had a dedicated edge and core and now it'll be more unified, but then what you do is you create these network slices through software by using SDN and NFV," she added.

Telstra head of Networks Mike Wright had said in September that the telco would be launching an NB-IoT network within six months, with Wright saying this would be enabled via network slicing.

Telstra's Cat-M1 network went live in August, becoming the largest IoT network in the nation.

Telstra group executive for Consumer Vicki Brady added that Telstra is now looking into using the live NB-IoT network for smart home use cases, for instance sensors such as pool filters with low amounts of data needing to be transmitted.

Speaking on Telstra's smart home product, Brady said that after launching with 10 devices in its portfolio, the telco now has 15 devices integrated with it.

The most recent additions include a water leak detector, additional lighting, and a smoke alarm battery, with customers on average connecting between four and six devices when they first sign up.

"We're now thinking about how it moves beyond the home as well, and yes there's a lot of enterprise use cases around location and tracking and we are doing some work around what that might mean in the consumer space," Brady said.

Updated at 6.18pm PT, January 11: Added quotes from Denholm, Brady, and Penn.

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