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15 January 2016

Ericsson adds both US leaders to its NB-IoT trials

Now that Ericsson has succeeded in pushing its favored technologies into the heart of the 3GPP agenda for low power wide area (LPWA) networks, it has stepped up its efforts to get them into the market, even ahead of full standardization in the next LTE release.

In November, it announced projects with Orange to trial both its key cellular technologies, Narrowband IoT and Extended Coverage GSM (EC-GSM). The former is the solution adopted by the 3GPP for its work on an LTE-based LPWA standard – technically a combination of Ericsson’s NB-LTE and Huawei’s Cellular IoT, in fact insiders indicate that the Swedish firm scored something of a coup and got its approach, which is more backwards compatible than Huawei’s, at the heart of the emerging specifications.

Whatever the politics, both the giant vendors, plus early mover MNOs like Orange and Vodafone, have been kicking off trials of pre-standard kit in a bid to accelerate the adoption of a mass market LTE-based solution, which they can control, in key markets like smart cities. This activity, they argue, will squeeze specialized LPWA options such as Sigfox and LoRa (mainly in unlicensed spectrum) into irrelevance (though Orange is also a major user of LoRa, pointing to a more probable reality, that one or two licence-exempt options will survive alongside the 3GPP’s platforms, to enable a wider range of applications and service providers than LTE can on its own).

Now the two largest US operators are joining Ericsson’s LPWA program. The Swedish company announced alliances with both AT&T and Verizon last week, focused on smart cities. With AT&T, it claimed to be showing off “the industry’s first complete cellular LPWA offering, enabling operators to address the full diversity of IoT use cases across their networks”.

Meanwhile, it also announced joint LPWA trials with Verizon, extending their existing IoT collaborations. Adam Koeppe, VP of network technology and planning at Verizon, said in a statement: “Verizon’s nationwide LTE network provides an ideal platform for the acceleration of IoT applications that benefit consumers, industry and cities. We’re committed to simplifying IoT and have introduced a developer platform – ThingSpace – and new network advancements that do just that.”

Ericsson’s recently launched new software release, Networks Software 17A, includes support for pre-standard NB-IoT as well as for EC-GSM, and the firm is surrounding that with various pre-packaged services, including big data analytics software specifically tailored to smart city applications, and cloud services including the new ‘smart metering as a service’ option.