Joeri Schnetz, operational director at VTM Group: 'There will always be a niche for LoRa'

Friday 17 March 2017 | 12:02 CET | Background
The VTM Group is an established name in the Netherlands, as one of the most successful KPN resellers. The same as elsewhere in the industry, the company is seeing its market change, with a more important role for ICT and the Internet of Things. VTM is making the transition from telecom reseller to ICT and telecom services provider, with the IoT an important part of that as it progresses with customers, operational director Joeri Schnetz told Telecompaper in an interview.

VTM is active for almost 30 years as a 'true telecom player', working mainly with KPN. Last month KPN named VTM Group its Business Partner of the Jaar. The company offers a broad portfolio of business services in the segments ICT, cloud, (mobile) telephony, internet and total communications. The Internet of Things has also become part of the offering in recent years. 

The IoT market is extremely dynamic and offers great potential for growth, according to Schnetz. The arrival of new types of IoT network are making more and more new applications possible.

M2M was previously a fragmented and highly diverse market. Applications were mainly industrial monitoring and process assurance, fleet management or healthcare services, such as remote sensor readings. 

VTM started in the market in 2010. KPN stepped up its M2M activities at that time by acquiring a stake in the M2M specialist Jasper Wireless. KPN asked VTM to look at how much it could contribute, and since 2012, the company's M2M Services unit is operational.

IoT playground

M2M Services is the fastest growing unit at VTM Group. The share of new IoT networks, such as LoRa is still small. Many players are still looking at what role they can play in the very broad IoT ecosystem. 

VTM has chosen to follow new technological developments quickly, while maintaining a focus on its core competences, such as ICT, telecom and M2M connectivity, said Schnetz. The goal is to facilitate customers deploying innovative IoT solutions in the market. The new LPWAN networks, such as LoRa and Sigfox offer VTM (and many others) a 'playground' where they can work with partners and customers on solutions that add value.  

The company said it has a number of test projects underway that are already ready for commercial launch or show good potential. This includes specialist areas such as climate control and water management. Pump and mill suppliers already are very active in M2M, but using more traditional methods. They are now embracing LPWAN networks, Schnetz said.

VTM Group's strongest asset in the IoT market is its own LoRa network in the Westland, launched last summer with its unit M2M Services. Known for its greenhouses, the Westland region is a potential market of 12,000 businesses and 40,000 households. In recent months, the agricultural industry has been testing sensors, and pilots are also underway at offices for controlling temperature and humidity. 

Is business booming? Many businesses still need to embrace the digital transformation in their processes and models. Some have already realised this, but still need to find the right partners, according to Schnetz. 

‘LoRa is no holy grail’

To deliver IoT connectivity, M2M Services uses, amongst others, the LoRa standard rolled out by KPN across the country. This competes with NB-IoT, being used by T-Mobile and Vodafone. According to Schnetz, there will always be applications that work better over LoRa than NB-IoT, but he acknowledged that even LoRa has its limitations. 

A variety of applications need different solutions and techniques. For example, LoRa can be a good solution for businesses with a large amount of connected devices in a small area, but the fact that LoRa uses licence-free spectrum is not always an advantage. Unlicensed spectrum brings risks in terms of reliability and availability. While this is not a problem for testing new developments, it becomes a concern if your business depends on it, Schnetz said.

VTM Groep will continue to test its LoRa services in Westland with partners and businesses and those that prove viable will be rolled out on KPN's LoRa network. Schnetz noted that LoRa is still in development. The company has not entirely hitched its wagon to LoRa and is trying to take a neutral position, in anticipation of the possibilities with NB-IoT and LTE-M. 

KPN announced last last year that it was the first operator in Europe to successfully test LTE-M. LTE-M (Machine Type Communication) is a new IoT technology that can be rolled out on the existing 4G network. This is expected to complement KPN's LoRa coverage and the existing M2M services over LTE. 

Big Data

VTM Group also started six months ago a new business to try and capitalise on the need for managing the large flows of data coming from IoT sensors. LinkThings offers a software platform that collects and delivers the data. It currently employs three developers and two commercial staff. 

LinkThings can provide a complete platform of device, connectivity and software to collect, analyse and visualise the data. The data can also be used to programme future actions or made available to partners as APIs for their own systems. The underlying network - whether LoRa, NB-IoT or any other IP network - is irrelevant, and all components can also be provided separately.  

Schnetz said this is an important addition to VTM's service offering. The company continues to work on its key strength of offering a broad portfolio of individual components, while not losing any depth in its expertise. "Internally also we want to make sure we stay focused on what we're good at," he said. 

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