The mobile industry embraced the challenge of rapidly advancing technologies, with the first commercial networks being deployed within seven months of the release, and a staggering 41 commercial networks being operational across 23 mobile operators to date. In the last 12 months, Vodafone rolled out 10 Narrowband IoT (NB-IoT) networks across its operations. In the U.S., Verizon and AT&T – the two largest carriers – initially adopted LTE-M, which is a low power wide area technology that supports IoT through device complexity and provides extended coverage while allowing the reuse of the LTE installed base, to provide nationwide coverage. But now all four U.S carriers have announced their intent to deploy NB-IoT. In China, NB-IoT has already been deployed by China Mobile, China Unicom and China Telecom. These three operators plan to activate 1.5 million NB-IoT base stations and have 600 million NB-IoT connections by the end of 2020.
Supporting these networks are 90+ modules and more than 20 developer kits, together with 34 IoT labs in 14 countries. More than 600 industry partners have been involved in the Edge-to-Enterprise (E2E) ecosystem, looking to bring digital transformation to at least 40 vertical industries, as well as new revenue to mobile operators. This has encouraged more than 80 mobile operators to embrace the technology and to launch 60+ Mobile IoT pilots.
Now the real work begins for the mobile industry and that is to discover how to efficiently monetize the technology. At the Mobile IoT Summit held in Barcelona on February 25th, 2018 the point was made that ultimate scalability of Mobile IoT is dependent on mobile operators being able to innovatively embrace the complexity of the value chain for each of the industries that the technology is applied to.
An indication of the creativity being applied to this area is the recent announcement by Deutsche Telekom that it has collaborated with Cologne-based narrowband IoT carrier 1NCE to offer E.U., Norwegian and Swiss customers a flat-rate “lifetime fee” of ten euros for 500 megabytes of data for the service life of their NB-IoT devices. This service life is for a minimum period of ten years, and should ensure cost predictability. Other key advantages for customers are no monthly bills, no additional fees, and no complex tariffs, which should allow simple NB-IoT solutions to be rapidly deployed, and for the market to grow.
Use cases that are being investigated as revenue opportunities include the “connected cow”. Farmers can harvest more milk by collecting physical data through NB-IoT devices on each cow, and performing more accurate management; this increases farmers’ revenue by around $300 and brings $6 to operators per cow per year. Since the NB-IoT devices are long lasting, and have good range, there is little maintenance. Additionally, the efficiency of the technology means a base station can easily accommodate more than 10,000 cows, allowing good rural ROI.
The number of use cases will grow across the many vertical markets, and the diversity and creativity with which they are served will multiply as the vibrant ecosystem of innovators leverage the world-wide coverage and capability of Mobile IoT that will occur in 2018. The two technologies included in Mobile IoT can be used in combination to address different market segments, where power, penetration and throughput requirements are diverse. In fact, the availability of combo chips and modules not only facilitate this, they also allow the possibility of LTE-M being used to efficiently deliver over-the-air updates to the NB-IoT portion of the chip, ensuring customers can depend on the longevity of the solutions.
There are good indicators that pricing is being addressed, and the improving cost and availability of modules and system on chip (SoC) solutions mean that the industry is set to scale. The key is helping customers to simply integrate the technology with their own business model, which is where the learnings from proof of concepts currently being deployed will prove valuable in honing the monetized solutions.