Ericsson trials Cat-M1 IoT network in Africa

South African mobile carrier MTN has begun trials of Cat-M1 Internet of Things network applications and devices in partnership with Ericsson and Qualcomm.

Networking giant Ericsson has announced trialling a Cat-M1 Internet of Things (IoT) network with MTN South Africa in partnership with Qualcomm.

The trial -- which signals the first Cat-M1 experiment for the African continent -- made use of Qualcomm's MDM9206 global multimode LTE IoT modem, the Ericsson Massive IoT Radio Access Network product, and MTN South Africa's own test bed lab.

MTN South Africa, which will continue the trials, said it plans to use Cat-M1 IoT applications and devices for both business and consumer customers, citing the low-cost devices, long battery lives, and extended coverage they enable.

"Today, the majority of telco IoT revenue comes from machine-to-machine connectivity, but in the next five years, this will change to revenue from platforms, applications, and services," Ericsson Middle East and Africa president Rafiah Ibrahim explained.

"This trial ensures MTN South Africa will capture new revenue streams."

Ericsson added that Cat-M1 will provide voice-over-LTE (VoLTE) support, along with hundreds of kilobits per second in throughput to support such IoT applications as smart point-of-sale terminals, vehicle tracking with emergency calling support, vending machines, pet-tracking devices, and wearables with integrated voice services.

The networking giant had in July unveiled a new suite of network services for massive IoT applications, in addition to launching software that enables VoLTE support across Cat-M1 IoT networks.

According to Ericsson, the product "packages a broad range of radio network services together to enable operators to smoothly introduce Internet of Things applications on their networks", and works across both Cat-M1 and narrowband IoT (NB-IoT) networks.

The suite designs and optimises massive heterogeneous IoT networks, and enables the scenario assessment, network modelling, development, developmental appraisal, deployment, operation, and management of mass amounts of connections through Ericsson's Support Services offering.

The addition of support for VoLTE across Cat-M1 networks enables telcos to connect IoT devices, applications, and services that could benefit from voice services, such as "security alarm panels, remote first-aid kits, wearables, digital locks, [and] disposable security garments", according to Ericsson.

Ericsson's global Device Connection Platform -- part of Ericsson's IoT Accelerator launched in 2012 -- supports over 2,000 enterprise customers and 25 telecommunications carriers in managing their IoT connections across the globe, including its recently launched open IoT platform with China Telecom.

Ericsson in June told ZDNet that it is ahead of the competition in trialling and deploying Cat-M1 IoT networks, having switched on a 4G Cat-M1 IoT network across Telstra's 4GX footprint last month.

"With the unique features and coverage of Cat-M1 enabled devices, we see this as an investment in the IoT ecosystem in Australia that will support new startups across a range of sectors, including agriculture, transportation, healthcare, and mining," Telstra COO Robyn Denholm said in July.

"Cat-M1 operates over our expansive 4GX coverage, and we will shortly deploy range extension capability which will take the Cat-M1 coverage footprint for compatible Cat-M1 devices to around 3 million square kilometres."

Sensors were connected to Telstra's 4G Cat-M1 network using a Sierra Wireless AirPrime embedded module on Altair's Cat-M1 chipset.

Ericsson's recent annual Mobility Report predicted that around 29 billion IoT devices will be connected globally by 2022, 18 billion of which will be IoT devices such as connected cars, machines, meters, sensors, electronics, and wearables.

Of these 18 billion, just over 15 billion are expected to be short-range IoT devices, while more than 2 billion will be wide-area IoT devices, Ericsson said.

"Cellular networks are well suited to providing connectivity for emerging IoT applications due to their ubiquitous deployments, as well as their inherent characteristics, which include security and reliability," Ericsson explained.

"The newly standardised 3GPP low-power wide-area (LPWA) cellular technologies, Cat-M1 and NB-IoT, can be deployed on existing LTE networks, and are helping to overcome these challenges. The technologies meet massive IoT coverage requirements and support a wide range of low-cost devices."

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