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IoT: more concrete examples at MWC 2017 but explosive growth unlikely until 5G

Wednesday 15 March 2017 | 09:01 CET | Background

Like last year IoT was prominently present as a topic at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. The progress made by many parties in the IoT value chain was shown by the many new products and developments being shown at MWC 2017 as well as by the announcements on technological advances and new partnerships. It isn’t possible to talk about all these developments and announcements, hence we highlight a few in this background showing the main trends, with a focus on those involving telecom players.

This year there were more concrete examples of various IoT applications than previously, there were many companies announcing partnerships, such as new platforms being set up, and various parties showing technological advances, such as Telit showing a live Cat M1 network app. There was also much attention for the 5G roadmap and the possibilities of 5G. Even though the number of connected devices will continue to grow in the coming years, many believe that the full explosive growth of IoT will only happen once 5G has been implemented.

According to Mats Granryd, director general of the GSMA, increased intelligence and ubiquitous networks will enable mobile to drive the so-called 4th industrial revolution. "At the core of this revolution will be hundreds of billions of connections, sensing and communicating key information about their environment, allowing the digital economy to spread into every aspect of our lives," he said.

IoT for the consumer

New products included IoT hardware such as Intel’s LIQD range of LTE-based devices, which are pre-certified and designed to dramatically accelerate time to market and Sierra Wireless’ new ‘plug and play’ modules.  There were also various product announcements on the application side, such as Vodafone and Samsonite cooperating on a lost luggage tracker via NB-IoT, or Telefonica and IoT platform GTX’s SmartSoles product. Another consumer oriented product, which received more attention than before was  the connected car, with for example Ford and Vodafone working together to create in-car WiFi.

IoT for industries

Next to the consumer focus, there is an ever-growing section focusing on the industial IoT, with examples at MWC from implementations at John Deere and Caterpillar and Ericsson announcing its new partnership with Comau, a specialist in industrial automation products. Ericsson and China Mobile also showed a prototype of a 5G-enabled Smart Factory assembly line. Deutsche Telekom announced new members to its ngena alliance, which is focused on Industry 4.0, where machines and even individual parts are equipped with sensors. Although the prospects for industrial IoT are tremendous, it will require many businesses to significantly change their way of working, which is a difficult process requiring time. 

Technological advances

Even though the race between LoRaWan networks and NB-IoT hasn’t been decided yet, several large telecom players are clearly going for NB-IoT. Vodafone expanded its Spanish NB-IoT network recently , while Deutsche Telekom set up a cooperation with China Unicom, and Cisco Jasper added support for NB-IoT to its platform. Ericsson announced that it teamed up with Telefonica and M2M developer Telit to successfully test the first end-to-end data communications call on NB-IoT over the air using Band 20 (800MHz) on Telefonica's network in Spain.

The LoRa focused players are not sitting still either, such as Actility demonstrating roaming between LoRaWan networks. Sagemcom, a LoRa alliance member, has announced a technology partnership with IoT products specialist myDevices, while in India Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE) announced it is working with Tata Communications to support the roll-out of India's first LoRaWAN (LoRa) based network.

Others however are placing their bets on supporting various IoT technologies, such as Orange announcing at Mobile World Congress that it will open its first European IoT Open Lab in April to support the development of LTE-M. The lab will support partners wishing to evaluate how their products or services performs over LTE-M or LoRa technologies. Its subsidiary, Orange Belgium, announced a few months ago that it will deploy two Internet of Things technologies, NB-IoT and LTE-M, in 2017. KPN already started testing LTE-M in December 2016. 

5G standardisation roadmap

Developments will continue to take place, new IoT products will be launched in the coming years, more devices will be connected, but the really big explosion of connected devices will only truly happen once 5G has been implemented. The roadmap to 5G implementation is dependent on the standards roadmap. In 2016 Release 13 3GPP was finalised, encompassing the definitions for NB-IoT, eMTC and EC-GSM-IoT. Release 14 is expected in 2017, enhancing those three technologies. Release 15 is scheduled for 2018 and Release 16 for 2019 or 2020. Release 15 will include the first 5G specifications, while Release 16 should encompass all the 5G requirements. Then commercial implementation of 5G products and services will be possible. After calls from operators and equipment vendors at MWC 2017 3GPP has agreed to speed up 5G standardisation, by developing an intermediate standard for 5G to be ready in mid 2018.



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