Deutsche Telekom pips Vodafone to post with NB-IoT launch

Deutsche Telekom's standardised NB-IoT parking solution in Bonn, Germany

Deutsche Telekom claimed a global first with the launch of standardised narrowband IoT (NB-IoT) systems in Germany and the Netherlands, just a day after Vodafone revealed where it first plans to roll out the low power wide area (LPWA) network technology during the first quarter of 2017.

Now that the 3GPP has completed the standardisation of NB-IoT, which forms part of Release 13 for LTE Advanced Pro networks, telcos are clearly keen to exploit this new form of connectivity in order to support new types of devices and applications that would not have been viable with existing technologies.

Although Vodafone said it would be the first operator globally to launch LPWA networks based on NB-IoT, Deutsche Telekom claimed it has not only activated the system in two markets together with Huawei but has also launched the first application: a commercial NB-IoT smart parking system in Bonn, Germany, that uses sensors in parking spaces to direct motorists to available parking spaces via a smartphone app.

RELATED: Vodafone unveils first markets for NB-IoT launch in 2017

In comments emailed to FierceWireless:Europe, a Deutsche Telekom spokesman said: “Today we see [Vodafone] will be not the world’s first. We are live today and will continue to roll out the technology now and not somewhere in the near future. Our partners are already testing their systems and solutions using our network.”

Vodafone said it had no comment to make on the claims made in Deutsche Telekom's announcement.

Aapo Markkanen, principal analyst at Machina Research, said his guess is that Vodafone would in fact be more pleased than displeased about this latest development.

“At this point, even the telcos with overlapping market footprints have a strong mutual interest in generating momentum around NB1 [or NB-IoT]. It’s all about gaining developer mindshare right now. That traditional telco-vs-telco competition is secondary until the 3GPP-based LPWA establishes,” Markkanen said.

However, Markkanen reiterated previous warnings that the network side is racing ahead of the device side.

“It will indeed take a while till the latter catches up. Yet then again, that’s really the best to bring a new standard into the market -- by rolling out extensive networks first, which then hopefully convinces the hardware suppliers, and ultimately the developers, to take the plunge. There’s no shortcut for that,” he added.

The Deutsche Telekom spokesman said he was not “as pessimistic” as this in terms of when NB-IoT-compatible devices, chipsets and modules would become available: “Things change fast in these days. Sometimes it only needs the right message,” he said. “We see that many of our partners are on the way to finalise their solutions, but they need to test them first -- not in the lab but under real conditions. That’s why we put the pedal to the metal and support them.”

Deutsche Telekom and Huawei also jointly unveiled the NB-IoT Soft Lab concept in order to encourage developers based anywhere in the world to bring to market new services and applications more quickly. Furthermore, Deutsche Telekom has established test environments within its "Narrowband IoT Prototyping Hub" initiative in Bonn, as well as at its hub:raum research facilities in Berlin and Krakow.

In Markkanen’s view, the emphasis on developer support in the form of the two new hubs is one of the most important takeaways from the Deutsche Telekom announcement.

“That’s clever, in my view -- exactly the sort of stuff that can realistically speed up the developer uptake. The NB-IoT Open Lab, which Vodafone and Huawei opened back in April, has the same aim,” he said.