More than 100 operators worldwide have launched low power wide area networks (LPWAN) based on the narrowband IoT (NB-IoT) and LTE for machines (LTE-M) standards, according to a new report from the Global mobile Suppliers Association (GSA).
The study shows that 102 operators in 52 countries have now deployed or launched at least one of the two technologies. Of this total, 20 operators in 19 countries have deployed or launched both NB-IoT and LTE-M networks – an indication of the growing acceptance of mobile operators that both technologies are required in order to support different IoT applications and devices. The GSA report found that 149 operators in 69 countries are investing in one or both of the network technologies.
For example, Vodafone initially focused on NB-IoT and has so far launched the technology in 13 markets: Spain, Ireland, Netherlands, Italy, Czech Republic, Germany, Greece, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Turkey, the United Kingdom, and Malta. However, it has now also rolled out LTE-M in the Netherlands and New Zealand. Meanwhile, LTE-M proponent AT&T is aiming to launch NB-IoT this year, and Deutsche Telekom, also an early NB-IoT adopter, is also preparing to roll out LTE-M this year.
NB-IoT has proved to be the most popular technology to date, with 140 operators in 69 countries investing in NB-IoT compared to 60 operators in 35 countries for LTE-M, according to the GSA report.
NB-IoT uses licensed spectrum and can coexist alongside existing 3G and 4G cellular networks. LTE-M uses an operator’s existing LTE network. While the former is designed to enable a wide range of new IoT devices and services, LTE-M supports relatively fast data throughput, mobility, roaming, and potentially voice services. The two technologies also compete with technologies such as Sigfox and LoRaWAN that use unlicensed spectrum.
The GSMA, whose Mobile IoT initiative helped standardize and license NB-IoT and LTE-M within the 3GPP, also keeps close track of commercial launches of the two technologies. It notes that AT&T, KPN, Orange, Telefónica, Telstra, and Verizon were among the first operators to roll out LTE-M. China Mobile, China Telecom, China Unicom, Deutsche Telekom, Etisalat, KT, NOS, TDC, Telefónica, Telia, and Vodafone have initially focused on NB-IoT.
According to GSA President Joe Barrett, the momentum behind LPWAN deployments “can also be seen as a precursor to operators replacing legacy [machine-to-machine] services such as GPRS-based trackers and preparing the ground for the eventual switch-off of their 2G network.”