Huawei, Vodafone open first NB-IoT lab in UK

Huawei and Vodafone are off and running in the quest to build an ecosystem for Narrowband Internet of Things (NB-IoT) technology. The two companies opened a new test lab in the UK to work on the development of products and applications related to NB-IoT.

The lab in Newbury, Berkshire, will provide a pre-integration testing environment for application developers and device, module and chip manufacturers. The facility is the first of seven in total that Huawei plans to open.

 Vodafone and Huawei celebrate the opening of an open IoT lab in Newbury, UK.
 (Image source: Huawei)

"As one of the founding members of the GSMA NB-IoT forum, we're delighted that the first lab is up and running," Luke Ibbetson, Vodafone Group R&D director and chairman of the GSMA NB-IoT Forum, said in a press release. "Over the past twelve months we've made significant progress establishing industry standards for the technology and the new labs will be critical to the next phase of development, which is to build a vibrant NB-IoT ecosystem."

Last year, competing proposals for NB-IoT were being pushed by Huawei and another group of companies that included Nokia (NYSE:NOK), Ericsson (NASDAQ: ERIC) and Intel. In September at a meeting in Phoenix, the 3GPP's radio access network working group agreed to standardize NB-IoT based on what some described as blending the best of both proposals.

"The GSMA's Mobile IoT initiative has been instrumental in aligning the industry behind three complementary technologies in NB-IoT, Extended Coverage GSM For IoT (EC-GSM-IoT) and Cat-M that will underpin a diverse range of solutions in the burgeoning LPWA market," said Graham Trickey, head of the Connected Living Programme at GSMA. "There are already a number of pilots taking place around the world and we welcome the work of the GSMA NB-IoT Forum that will help to accelerate the availability of commercial solutions in licensed spectrum."

The NB-IoT solutions coming out of the cellular standards process are in response to many of the low-power wide area (LPWA) proprietary solutions that are being deployed by the likes of Sigfox, LoRa and Ingenu. Some operators say they prefer to use a standards-based approach that will produce economies of scale rather than using proprietary solutions for IoT.

Supporters of the narrowband technology also say it provides significantly improved network coverage for IoT communications, supports deeper coverage, a large number of connections, while lowering power consumption. It can also address enterprise applications in a range of areas, including utility meters, sensor monitoring and asset-tracking.

Vodafone and Huawei jointly showcased a demonstration of smart metering at Mobile World Congress 2015 and completed their first successful commercial trial of pre-standard NB-IoT in November 2015. That trial was the first of its kind to successfully implement narrowband communications for smart metering using licensed cellular bands, according to the companies.

The first devices connected by NB-IoT technologies are expected in late 2016 or early 2017.

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