Nokia adds NB-IoT and LoRa to IMPACT, chases smart grids too

Nokia has added NB-IoT and LoRa support to its Intelligence Management Platform for all Connected Things (IMPACT), aimed at expanding the reach of its IoT application and management platform. With Nokia announcing a mixed-bag of annual results, which looks like it is turning a corner, the company is placing a lot of emphasis on the IoT as a growth vehicle over the coming years.

Broadly put, Nokia is diversifying its portfolio in order to offset the increased competition from Huawei in its core networking business. It has moved into new areas such as healthcare, with the purchase of Withings, acquired Mformation for its device management and IoT security knowledge, as well as offer services designed to boost enterprise efficiency – such as its machine-learning powered Motive Service Management Platform.

Impact is central to Nokia’s IoT expansion plans, and was launched in June 2016. It acts as the central platform, to manage data collection and processing, device management, event processing, and the associated applications. With security a pretty strong focal point for the sales team, Nokia is pitching Impact at communications providers, enterprises, and governments.

The connectivity updates to Impact expand upon the platforms existing support for Lightweight M2M (LWM2M) and LTE Cat-M1. With the addition of NB-IoT, Impact now features both the IoT-focused LTE standards that were part of the 3GPP’s Release 13 spec.

Adding LoRa provides Impact with an LPWAN option that doesn’t require licensed spectrum – a boon to those who are considering an IoT deployment and want to avoid the expense associated with using public cellular networks, namely the margins that the MNOs introduce in order to turn a profit. An in-house unlicensed network may well have a lower total-cost-of-ownership this way.

With LoRa, it’s good news for Semtech – the owner of the IP behind the LPWAN chips. For the wider LoRa ecosystem, Nokia’s platform could prove a lucrative source of new sales opportunities, for all the associated equipment and services needed. While the likes of Actility and Stream will be wary of Nokia throwing its weight around and treading on their toes, adding LoRa and NB-IoT is necessary for Nokia.

Other updates appear on the applications side of Impact, offering a pre-integrated option that should significantly reduce the deployment times. These include a video analytics option, powered by Nokia’s Bell Labs machine-learning algorithms. Initially pitched at smart city applications such as traffic management and security, the system aims to spot anomalies in video streams, based on historic behavior and pattern analysis.

Smart parking and smart lighting are also being added, again aimed at cities, but wider fleet management tools are also being pushed for automakers or businesses with large fleets of vehicles than would benefit from predictive maintenance and supply chain optimization. Nokia notes that this data can be pulled from a connected head unit in the vehicle, or from an OBD-II port dongle/adapter.

An early potential customer for this new auto-focused offering is the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission (PTC), whose CIO Scott Fairholm said that “the Nokia video analytics tech addresses a real industry challenge around real-time anomaly detection. PTC considers the Nokia approach unique, and is looking forward to testing it out in the field.”

As for Impact’s current successes, there haven’t been many announcements. Nokia does note that its device management solution can provide lifecycle management for more than 80,000 types of devices (broadband, home, and IoT – the same number as it claimed at launch, when it also claimed to have connected more than 1.5bn devices total, although that includes smartphones and home gateways, so we’ve no idea how many of that 1.5bn figure are pure-IoT). It notes that over 15,000 devices have been certified for Impact, and that Tier 1 North American customers have deployed Impact – but isn’t publicly disclosing who they might be.

Back in December, Nokia announced an IoT partnership with HPE, but as is the case with most IoT news we cover, actually finding a list of businesses that are using the platform is a rarity. It would be nice if the IoT did a better job of publicly singing its own praises.

We’ll be on the lookout for customer wins, but Nokia has also has used the DistribuTech show to unveil its latest utility-focused offering – the 7705 SAR-Hm (Service Aggregation Router-HM), which it is pitching at utilities looking to blend IP/MPLS tech with LTE, 3G, and WiFi connectivity. Citing AMI, renewable integration, and distribution automation, Nokia is hunting for smart grid customers. This is the box that Nokia hopes utilities will use to provide the networking links to their grids, as well as tempt other industrial markets that are looking for remote connectivity options.

“Power utilities worldwide are in the midst of a significant transformation as they gear up to meet new market forces, green environmental regulations, and disruptive renewable energy technologies,” said Sri Reddy, Nokia’s head of IP Routing and Packet Core Business. “Grid reliability, power quality, and automation are all key areas that will require improved field area networks.”

Currently, Nokia claims to have over a hundred utility customers on the books, but hasn’t announced any customers for the new 7705. AT&T is quoted in the release, saying it is happy to be teaming up with Nokia to provide US utilities with a private LTE solution – pitching the security benefits of a private LTE network to customers that might be uneasy with their traffic being managed over public networks.

In terms of rival implementations, technologies like Wi-SUN and Wirepas aim to provide the wireless communication backbone that utilities and energy OEMs need to modernize their grids – in private networks that don’t need to involve the MNOs. Private networks still have a strong appeal to utilities and industrial customers, and MNOs, in general, are much better versed in public WANs.