Ericsson just took a significant step toward delivering cellular-based IoT

Ericsson CEO Jan Frykhammar. Claudio Bresciani/AFP/Getty Images

Ericsson recently completed network testing of a new Cat-M1 4G modem designed for the IoT, according to ZDNet. The tests, which took place in Sweden, were conducted in concert with Qualcomm and Australian-based telco operator Telstra.

The companies didn’t offer a timetable of when the network the modem powers would be deployed, but Telstra did note that compatible narrowband IoT devices could arrive as soon as late 2017.

Ericsson said the tests are a significant step toward delivering cellular-based IoT capabilities. Cat-M1 is specifically designed for the IoT, as it includes extended coverage areas through walls and floors, and supports devices with longer battery lives. It also uses a single antenna and operates on the 700MHz mobile broadband spectrum band.

Further, according to Ericsson VP of Radio Product Management Thomas Noren, the software features powering the network enable lower-power consumption, less expensive devices, and extended coverage.These capabilities make it more similar to a low-power wide-area network (LPWAN) than a traditional cellular network.

While LPWANs still have more use cases for the IoT, specialized cellular networks for the IoT are becoming more prevalent. As opposed to cellular networks like Cat-M1 4G that consume more power, LPWANs connect devices over a larger geographic area and use less power.

BI Intelligence estimates that 700 million IoT devices will be connected over LPWAN standards by 2021. However, since this network specifically allows for lower-power consumption and extended coverage, it could become a popular alternative to LPWANs such as Senet or Sigfox.

Although WiFi and cellular networks can connect IoT devices to the internet, they have inherent characteristics that make them ill-suited to do so for small, low-power components like sensors, smart locks, and smart lights.

BI Intelligence expects that more than 24 billion IoT devices will be installed globally in 2020, and the vast majority of these will fall into the small, low-power category.

So networks that are better suited to connect these low-power IoT devices — notably, LPWANs — are being developed. These networks can connect devices over large geographic areas because of their long range, but use less battery power on the devices they connect and offer cheaper data subscriptions than traditional cellular networks. Interest in LPWANs among IoT providers and end users is growing in response to the opportunities these benefits present. For example, a municipality deploying parking sensors for a smart transportation project could lower its costs by using a LPWAN instead of a cellular network. It would also then be able to replace the batteries on the sensors far less frequently.

BI Intelligence has compiled a detailed report on LPWANs that explains the impact they will have on the growth of the IoT and the benefits of using LPWANs for IoT connections. It also forecasts the internet connections and subscription revenues associated with these networks and explains in detail the many standards for LPWANs that exist today. Finally, it lays out the current market landscape going forward as different network providers launch LPWANs.

Here are some of the key takeaways from the report:

  • Low Power Wide Area Networks are specifically designed for connecting low-power devices like sensors over a very long range. This makes them well suited to a wide range of IoT use cases like smart agriculture and smart cities.
  • Low Power Wide Area Networks can connect these low-power devices at a cheaper cost than existing cellular networks. LPWANs have cheaper hardware costs and data subscription costs because they don’t need to provide the high data rates that cellular networks do.
  • BI Intelligence estimates that the total number of IoT devices connected over LPWANs will reach 700 million by 2021. This represents remarkable growth for such a new technology that has little present adoption.
  • A number of startups and new networking providers are launching LPWANs using standards that leverage unlicensed spectrum. These providers are trying to secure networking revenues from the billions of low-power IoT devices that will go online over the next few years.
  • Cellular network carriers are responding to this trend by developing their own standards for LPWANs that leverage their existing infrastructure that supports their 4G networks. This means they will be competing directly with some of the new providers mentioned above.
  • Different LPWAN standards are best suited for specific use cases, and business and government organizations will need to understand the benefits of the various standards to find the solution that fits their needs.

In full, the report:

  • Details the broad need for low-cost, low-power internet connectivity for IoT devices that LPWANs will help meet.
  • Forecasts the growth of the LPWAN market including new networking providers and traditional mobile carriers that are launching their own LPWANs.
  • Examines how LPWANs will be adopted by different industries that are launching IoT projects.
  • Compares the distinct characteristics and advantages of different standards for LPWANs.
  • Explains how the LPWAN market will develop over the coming years in regards to different standards and competitors.
  • Examines what the future of internet network connectivity for IoT devices will look like, including LPWANs and the coming of 5G mobile networks.

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The choice is yours. But however you decide to acquire this report, you’ve given yourself a powerful advantage in your understanding of LPWANs.