Sprint is taking a dramatically different approach to building an IoT network. The operator, which is in the midst of overhauling its cellular network in preparation for 5G, will also deploy a nationwide LTE-M network for IoT. But what’s different about Sprint’s LTE-M network is that it will use a virtualized IoT core that is separate from the operator’s existing cellular core.
The operator plans to have its LTE-M network with the virtualized core ready for commercial launch in the fourth quarter.
Sprint needs a bold IoT strategy. The company’s existing IoT business has been languishing because customers are primarily using its 3G CDMA network. And CDMA modules in Sprint’s 1900 MHz and 800 MHz spectrum bands are lacking.
To help revamp the company’s IoT business, the operator hired Ivo Rook, who joined Sprint as SVP of IoT in December. Rook spent seven years at Vodafone where he most recently was CEO of Vodafone’s IoT business. Vodafone’s IoT group generates $1 billion in revenue and connects more than 50 million devices.
Nishi Kant, chief technologist for Sprint’s IoT network, works for Rook. He said that as part of Sprint’s IoT overhaul, the company decided it needed to have a flexible core network so it could put computing capacity where it was needed. Not only does this free up capex dollars but it also gives the company the agility to add capacity where it’s necessary instead of forcing certain traffic patterns. “This is a completely dedicated core network that is independent of the existing core,” Kant said. It will overlay the same RAN but will have independent operational support services and back office systems.
Other U.S. operators like Verizon and AT&T have already deployed nationwide LTE-M IoT networks, but those operators have not built separate core networks so their LTE-M networks use the existing network capacity.
Integrate with LoRa
Kant, a former Brocade executive, said that by keeping the LTE-M IoT core network separate, Sprint will also be able to integrate with LoRa networks. LoRa is a specification developed by the LoRa Alliance that uses unlicensed spectrum and enables a low power, wide area communication between remote sensors and gateways connected to the network. Comcast’s machineQ network, for example, uses LoRaWAN technology, which is based upon the LoRa spec.
“For customers, we think integration with LoRa is important,” Kant said. “Now I have the ability to do that selectively at certain locations without a nationwide approach,” he added.
As far as IoT platforms, Kant said that it can deploy different middleware platforms as requested by customers, but the company doesn’t want to build custom systems. “We will customize the data feed to the customer to suit their application,” he said.
That said, Sprint does already have a connected car platform called Velocity that it introduced in 2012. That platform was targeted at automakers and intended to offer customized features like navigation, security, remote diagnostics, and emergency services. Kant noted that if a car maker wants to use that platform, Sprint will be able to offer a more customized experience.