Low power wide area networks (LPWANs) are seen as key to the emerging Internet of Things (IoT), with their ability to connect multiple low power, low communication bandwidth devices in the field. [Engerati-LPWA-Disruptive new networks for IoT]
While the drivers of these networks will come from multiple sources, such as utilities as they expand their grid edge activities and municipalities as they look towards smart cities, the telcos also will be key players with the potential to add another service offering and revenue stream to their portfolio.
Indeed, signs are already emerging of how telcos can and are driving the IoT. At the end of June, Dutch network provider KPN claimed the Netherlands as the first country in the world to have a nationwide LPWAN based on LoRa. Now, South Korea Telecom has followed with the completion of its LoRa LPWAN rollout.
Let’s look at what these two operators are doing.
IoT in Netherlands
According to KPN, LoRa first went live at the beginning of November 2015 in Rotterdam and The Hague. Because of the substantial customer interest, the rollout of the network was speeded up at the beginning of the year.
KPN has so far contracted 1.5 million ‘devices’ that will be connected to the LoRa network. The first IoT applications are already connected to the network and numerous proofs of concept are being tested. For example, at Schiphol Airport LoRa is being tested in logistical processes such as baggage handling and for facility services. An experiment is being carried out at Utrecht Central station that allows LoRa to monitor rail switches, and depth sounders at the port of Rotterdam have been fitted with devices to connect them to the IoT network.
“Last year we identified an increasing demand for low-power network technology for Internet of Things applications,” says Joost Farwerck, chief operations officer and member of the Board of Management of KPN. “In less than a year KPN has implemented a network that allows us to satisfy this market demand.”
The network was deployed with a LoRa gateway and antenna on existing mobile transmission towers across the Netherlands, as a supplement to the existing 2G, 3G and 4G networks.
KPN expects the number of connected devices to grow rapidly. In the months ahead KPN intends to further optimize the LoRa network and also will make available the localization functionality.
IoT in South Korea
SK Telecom reports that its LoRa LPWAN, which covers 99% of the population, was completed 6 months ahead of schedule. This follows completion of the nationwide rollout of its LTE-M network in March. Together these form the “two main pillars of the IoT network,” the company said in a statement.
In order to promote development of the IoT market, SK Telecom has launched what it calls “affordable price plans” costing as little as one tenth of the costs of the LTE-based IoT options, for services such as advanced metering and monitoring, tracking and control.
The company has been conducting an AMI pilot project with SK E&S since November 2015, which is to be expanded to other regions of the country. SK Telecom plans also to launch AMI services for other utilities including water and electricity.
Tracking services will identify and track the location of vehicles, people/things and assets. Examples of monitoring services include CO2 concentration, temperature, humidity and hazardous substances such as levels of radon in the atmosphere and soil.
In all, SK Telecom plans to launch a total of 20 LoRa-based IoT services by the end of 2016. These include also a manhole monitoring service (in September) and a real-time shared parking service (in October).
“SK Telecom is proud to announce the nationwide deployment of LoRaWAN as it marks the first important step towards realizing connectivity between infinite number of things,” said Lee Hyung-hee, president of Mobile Network Business at SK Telecom. “Going forward, SK Telecom will develop and offer a wide variety of IoT services designed to offer new value for customers, while working closely with partners including SMEs and startups to vitalize the IoT ecosystem.”
According to the statement the company will invest a total of KRW100 billion (US$89 million) in its IoT activities by the end of 2017 and envisages connection of over 4 million ‘things’ to its IoT-dedicated networks by that time.
IoT developer community
As part of their IoT development activities both companies have indicated their intention to launch a range of activities to stimulate the developer community.
KPN, through its venture capital arm KPN Ventures, has acquired a minority stake in the French smart solution provider Actility. The company also has partnered with RDM Makerspace to create an Internet of Things Academy, which organizations can contact if they need help applying IoT in practice.
For its part SK Telecom is providing a total of 100,000 LoRa modules to developers for free. In addition, an open testbed will be created at its Bundang Building where developers can carry out tests and verification and obtain technical advice.
While the number of telecom providers deploying LPWANs and their extent isn’t known, clearly they are the quickest route to achieving a national rollout in the shortest time.