Vodafone launching live NB-IoT networks in Europe and ANZ

Vodafone will launch live nationwide NB-IoT networks across New Zealand and Germany in the second half of the year, along with a staged rollout across Australia following its launch across six Spanish cities in January.
Written by Corinne Reichert, Contributor

Vodafone has revealed that it will be launching live narrowband Internet of Things (NB-IoT) networks in Australia, New Zealand, and Germany during the second half of 2017 following the launch of its NB-IoT network across six cities in Spain in January.

The networks in New Zealand and Germany will be nationwide, Vodafone said, while Australia's will be rolled out in a state-by-state process beginning in Victoria where it has been running NB-IoT trials with Huawei for the past year.

Speaking on the sidelines of CeBIT Australia in Sydney on Wednesday morning, Vodafone IoT global head of sales Tony Guerion told ZDNet that multiple customers are now trialling their products on Vodafone's Spanish NB-IoT network.

Vodafone is also in talks with more than 15 companies in Spain, with much of the interest coming from utility companies -- although this has extended to other organisations as well.

Spanish water utility Aguas de Valencia is one such company trialling the network, making use of the connectivity to read its water meters across the country, Guerion said, with Vodafone bringing the knowledge gained from these trials to businesses worldwide.

The use of its NB-IoT labs -- such as those in Düsseldorf in Germany and Newbury in the United Kingdom -- are also driving interest, Vodafone said, with companies able to experience hands-on time with prototype devices.

In Australia, Vodafone Australia Enterprise Business Unit executive general manager Stuart Kelly pointed to the trial with South East Water (SEW) in partnership with Huawei as the driving force behind NB-IoT takeup by other companies, utilities, and councils.

"We're working very closely with [SEW] and also with Huawei to continue those trials, and our aim is to move to a commercial trial [in the third quarter]," Kelly told ZDNet.

"The trials have been really successful to date, I think it's quite interesting to understand that because this is the first-of-its-kind trial, we're both learning as we're moving along ... the feedback from them has been all positive, they're really happy with the level of expertise, the support, the guidance we're able to offer and vice versa."

The SEW trial -- for which Huawei provides the data platform and Vodafone the test network -- is not just about smart water metering; SEW's goal is to have 1 million device end points connected eventually, made up of around 800,000 meters and 200,000 detectors in end points such as sewers, manholes, and fire hydrants, SEW CFO Philip Johnson told ZDNet in February.

SEW is also looking to implement APIs, like weather data from the Bureau of Meteorology and electricity data to control pricing based on the electricity market, onto its platform.

Vodafone is monitoring the results of SEW's trial, and sharing the information with other interested parties including those in the agriculture, healthcare, and automotive sectors, along with government, Kelly said.

"We've got negotiations and talks with a wide range of other councils across Australia who are very keen to see the success of SEW ... it varies; there's some large-scale utility companies, there's also other organisations and other sectors that have expressed a keen interest to understand more about the trial, how it works, what's the technology, and more importantly what the information coming out of our trial is," Kelly said.

"And we're working very closely with probably about five large organisations at the moment. The conversations are progressing, but an awful lot would depend on the successes we see at SEW."

The main interest governments are showing in NB-IoT is related to smart cities applications, Kelly said, adding that this is tipped to progress rapidly over the next few years.

"We have a lot of bodies engaging with us and other organisations to understand the capability and what can be done. The real opportunity within a smart city -- it's not about turning on and off lights, it's about how can it improve the life of a citizen, how can you make their drive to work better, how can you improve the facilities for them and the services that you offer," Kelly explained.

Guerion agreed that while the most important part of smart cities is to improve the lives of citizens, this is attained through better management of lighting, water, and transportation through IoT applications.

"If you think about a city like Sydney, which has a lot of people living in a very small territory, you want to optimise transportation, you want to optimise consumption of water and electricity, you want to optimise waste management and all those things," Guerion told ZDNet.

"And this is how the government actually sees now IoT as a huge enabler moving forward, because it's going to allow municipalities and local government to actually deploy all these services and actually start to generate on one side more savings when it comes to managing your city and how efficient you are, but also start to improve citizens' life on a daily basis."

Vodafone and Huawei completed a successful trial of NB-IoT technology across central and suburban Melbourne a year ago, attaining 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.

While Vodafone has been working with Huawei globally, however, Guerion said the carrier is also working with Ericsson and Nokia on NB-IoT.

"Huawei is a vendor that we use across our network infrastructure in Vodafone in most countries, so yes we are working with Huawei; however, I don't think they are necessarily the main vendor ... we are also working with Ericsson, for instance, and with Nokia," he said.

Rival Australian telco Optus is similarly working with Cisco on NB-IoT trials, in February announcing that it integrated Cisco's Jasper, a cloud-based IoT platform, to support NB-IoT technology on Optus' 4G network.

In November, Telstra said it was "just weeks" from launching its NB-IoT network, with the lower-band network slated to be enabled at the beginning of calendar 2017, and earlier this week said it will be trialling a series of smart city applications in Perth, Western Australia, under a partnership with the Joondalup council.

According to Vodafone, the rollout of NB-IoT networks will gain pace once similar networks are deployed in China, as this will drive lower price points for cells worldwide.

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