New Zealand telecommunications carrier Spark has announced that it will trial its Cat-M1 Internet of Things (IoT) network this month across its core 4G network, ahead of commercial launch in early 2018.
According to IoT GM Michael Stribling, Spark is already working with its customers on utilising its Cat-M1 network for such use cases as vehicle telematics; smart metering; smart cities applications including lighting and environmental monitoring; and smart health devices.
"M1 is a secure, high-quality network, ideal where sensors and devices are transferring large amounts of data regularly and real-time access to that data is critical," Stribling explained on Tuesday morning.
"We're now close to having a market-ready service that'll help bring those possibilities to life."
Spark had already been supplying machine-to-machine (M2M) solutions across its 4G network -- which covers around 95 percent of "the places New Zealanders live, work, and play", the telco said -- with the Cat-M1 network to bolster these offerings.
"M1 enables machines to communicate effectively over 4G wireless technology, so we've continued to build on the NZ$383 million of network investment made over the past year, progressing both our 4G and future-focused 4.5G capabilities," Spark's GM of Networks Colin Brown said.
"Customers will be able to leverage this to offer new and competitive products powered by a network that's been purpose-built to support a wide range of uses, including mobile, wireless broadband, and now IoT."
Under an IoT plan it dubbed a "dual-network strategy", Spark is rolling out both a Cat-M1 and a long-range (LoRa) network across the nation, with the latter being tested across the agricultural and industrial markets.
Spark said it would have an update on its LoRa network -- which it announced in July -- in the next few weeks.
The telco partnered with Actility and Kordia on designing and building the LoRa network, with a "significant proportion" to be operational as of June 2018, it said earlier this year.
It is already undertaking Connected Farms trials with Farmlands, the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (NIWA), Ballance Agri-Nutrients, and device partners in Waikato.
Spark has also been improving its mobile network backbone, announcing in June a three-year partnership with Nokia to upgrade its mobile and fixed-line network infrastructure, with Spark's core and backhaul networks to run on a Nokia IP/Multiprotocol Label Switching (MPLS) network using Nokia's 7250 Interconnect Router R6 (IXR-R6).
Nokia's 7250 IXR-R6 has terabit capacity, "high-port density", and connectivity options including Ethernet and legacy synchronous optical networking (SONET) and synchronous digital hierarchy (SDH).
Spark is also upgrading its network with Ericsson, announcing in February a deal to digitise its voice network by progressively upgrading its legacy copper Public Switched Telephone Network (PSTN) to an IP-based network named the Converged Communications Network (CCN) over the next five years.
Under this program, Ericsson will build the IP Multimedia Subsystem (IMS), which will form the core technology for the CCN.
The CCN will replace the PSTN to deliver new voice calling, landline, fibre, data, video conferencing, content, mobile, and Wi-Fi services enabling voice over LTE (VoLTE), voice over Wi-Fi (VoWiFi), and VoIP.
The CCN will consist of three redundant core network nodes spread geographically across the nation, in order to ensure resilience during natural disasters or other outages.
For the year ended June 30, Spark announced overall net earnings of NZ$418 million, up 13 percent from NZ$370 million, on revenue of NZ$3.6 billion, up 3.3 percent from NZ$3.5 billion.
Earnings before interest, tax, depreciation, and amortisation (EBITDA) was just over NZ$1 billion, up 3 percent from NZ$986 million, while capex for the year was NZ$415 million.
As of the end of June, Spark had 2.4 million mobile connections, with 11,000 voice-only connections on Spark's voice-over-LTE service. Spark said it launched one of the first 4.5G mobile networks in APAC during the financial year, making use of 5x carrier aggregation, 4x4 Multiple-Input Multiple-Output (MIMO), and 256 Quadrature Amplitude Modulation (QAM).
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Spark has partnered with Actility to build a LoRa IoT network across the country by 2018, with plans to also construct narrowband and LTE-M1 mobile-based IoT networks.
Spark is aiming to move the majority of its broadband customers away from copper-based services by 2020, over to higher-speed and more reliable wireless and fibre broadband options.
Spark's IP voice infrastructure will be upgraded by Ericsson to allow for voice and video calling over fibre, Wi-Fi, and LTE.