Huawei and Vodafone open narrowband IoT lab

A lab dedicated to the development of narrowband Internet of Things applications and technology has been opened in the UK by Huawei and Vodafone.

Huawei and Vodafone have announced the opening of an open lab in Newbury, UK, dedicated to the research and development (R&D) of narrowband Internet of Things (NB IoT) technology and applications, with the Chinese technology giant planning to open six more across the globe.

According to the companies, which have partnered on various network technologies for 10 years, the lab will provide a testing environment for application developers and chip, module, and device manufacturers.

"Working with Vodafone, we have accelerated standardisation of the technology and carried out successful pre-commercial trials," said David Wang, president of Wireless Product Line at Huawei.

"This facility will be crucial in supporting the deployment of NB-IoT globally and contribute to the promotion of its ecosystem."

Vodafone Group R&D director Luke Ibbetson said the companies 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 earlier this month said that with NB IoT standards due to be "frozen" in June, it has been undertaking trials across the globe ahead of its own 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.

"It's the scale," said Huawei spokesperson Glenn Schloss in April.

"It allows for a lot of devices to be working on the network at the same time ... the security's said to be much stronger than Wi-Fi, because it's over a cellular network, and it's also the cost; they're talking about $5 per unit, which is attractive when talking about so many devices.

"So it's cost, the scale as well, and then it's good for the telco industry as well, because it allows them to use the existing resources or upgrade them to get more. It opens up new revenue streams."

Schloss added that Huawei is looking into NB IoT with a particular interest at the direct involvement made possible by the technology.

"It's the vertical industry approach which is attractive to Huawei, and also the operators as well; it lets them and Huawei become more involved with industries," he said.

"We need to work with the operators to access these industries: Mining, for example, linking up mining operations with the trucks that are moving around, and having censors all attached to that; agriculture, utilities, retail."

Schloss pointed towards three levels of IoT: Fast-moving, for high-speed video and similar applications; mid-level, which is for retail point-of-sale applications; and low-level, which involves the utilities, smart metering, and smart parking.

Smart parking has been trialled across the globe 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".

In Singapore, the latter half of 2016 will similarly see telecommunications provider Singtel collaborating with Ericsson on trialling NB-IoT technology across its network.