Ericsson wrangles cellular IoT into four defined segments

Let’s face it. The Internet of Things (IoT) has been a tough industry to get a grip on. Does it belong to the world of cloud platforms, such as GE’s Predix or IBM’s Watson? Or is it mainly about sensors connecting such disparate things as industrial equipment and smart scooters? Where do smart cities fit into the IoT landscape? And then there are the networks: Cat-M1, narrow-band IoT (NB-IoT), and long-range wide area networks.

Ericsson has been making a concerted push into the IoT industry for the last couple of years. But apparently, it also felt the need to define a little more clarity around IoT. The Swedish company today explained its cellular IoT evolution by defining four market segments: Massive IoT, Broadband IoT, Critical IoT and Industrial Automation IoT.

Ericsson defines how cellular IoT can move from the more basic use cases of Massive IoT, such as asset tracking and smart metering, to increasingly sophisticated use cases enabled by Broadband IoT, such as drone management, and then by Critical IoT (for example, autonomous vehicles) and Industrial Automation IoT (for example, collaborative robotics in manufacturing).

Massive IoT—This enables less complex use cases such as the sensor in a home’s electricity meter or a sensor in a refrigerated truck to monitor the temperature. Marie Hogan, head of Ericsson’s broadband and IoT business, said the company has Massive IoT commercial offerings today. “Cellular IoT started even with 2G and 3G,” she said. “At Mobile World Congress in 2016, we started building our solution on 4G, using techs like NB-IoT and Cat-M1. They’re commercially rolled out today. There are about 80 commercial networks today, and Ericsson powers half of those.”

Today, Ericsson is launching enhanced functionalities for Massive IoT. For example, it’s extending the cell range of the NB-IoT for the standards-based limit from around 40km to 100km through software updates without changes to existing NB-IoT devices. This opens opportunities in IoT connectivity in rural and remote areas, particularly for logistics, agriculture and environment monitoring. Ericsson has deployed NB-IoT data connections up to 100km with Telstra and DISH.

Broadband IoT—This segment also will enable 4G network use cases, but for those that have bigger data demands and require lower latency. Examples would be drone management and entertainment within automobiles. Ericsson’s Broadband IoT supports LTE for 2Gbps data throughput and around 10-millisecond latency.

Of Broadband IoT, Hogan said, “We have run a number of trials on the drone side with customers in Europe such as Vodafone." Broadband IoT will be commercially available in 2019, and it will be further enhanced by 5G, which will provide even higher data rates and lower latency. And Broadband IoT also can enable RAN slicing.

Critical IoT—This will be enabled with 5G networks and will provide ultralow latency and extreme reliability. Hogan said this could be used in the utilities industry, for example, which could redirect renewable energy to parts of the smart grid in real time. Or Critical IoT could be used for driverless cars. “That’s really a 5G network capability,” Hogan said. The company is currently running Critical IoT trials.

Industrial Automation IoT—This last segment is still being defined. But Hogan said it will most likely be applied in manufacturing settings. “This would be on top of Critical IoT,” she said. It’s envisioned as a futuristic technology to fully digitize the factory, getting rid of wires and cables and enabling collaborative robotics.

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Ericsson’s goal with its four-segment approach is to make the IoT path a little more understandable. “There’s been a lot of talk, but in addition, there’s been a lot of concrete action,” said Hogan. “It’s not always obvious when cellular IoT deployments are around you.” For example, she said trash cans in Stockholm, Sweden, are fitted with sensors. “We started connecting things as far back as 2G," she said. "Local vending machines would be connected by 2G. It’s been growing for some time. But it sort of exploded in the last two to three years.”