Nokia to test cellular-based IoT technologies against unlicensed

Industrial IoT (Pixabay)
Nokia said the deal highlights the progress for its strategy of expanding its customer base outside of the traditional telecom sphere. (Pixabay)

Nokia said it is working with French power utility EDF’s R&D unit to test the performance of various low-power wide-area (LPWA) technologies, including the cellular standards-based Narrowband IoT (NB-IoT), LTE-Machine (LTE-M/eMTC) and “other emerging, largely unlicensed IoT technologies.”

The two companies plan to engage in a comprehensive testing regime, believed to be among the first of its kind in the industry, exploring the capabilities of LPWA technologies to support industrial applications. Nokia is EDF R&D's exclusive partner in this effort.

Specifically, EDF R&D will use Nokia TestHub Services in Nokia's Device Testing Lab in France when testing IoT/M2M objects, chipsets, modules and user devices across wireless technologies and frequencies. Nokia says this enables devices to be tested on real network infrastructure rather than a simulated network, which reduces guesswork in testing and analysis and minimizes risks in advance of widespread commercial introduction.

"The Internet of Things offers tremendous opportunities for our group,” said Stéphane Tanguy, head of IT Systems at EDF R&D, in a press release. “Among the connectivity solutions, it is essential that we understand the performance, the maturity and the adequacy of each technology for our different use cases by an objective and agnostic approach.”

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Nokia’s Matthieu Bourguignon, head of Global Enterprise and Public Sector for Europe, said the use of IoT devices in industrial networks is in its infancy. Nevertheless, given the expected huge numbers of devices that will be deployed in the future, “it is critical that our customers can evaluate now the various technologies before making substantial investments.”

There appears to be no shortage of those “other” emerging IoT technologies, although their presence in the U.S. has been tempered of late by the departure of a couple executives. John Horn had served as Ingenu’s CEO until last spring and, more recently, Allen Proithis, who led Sigfox’s North American operations since 2015, left the company as it transitions to its next phase.

Sigfox uses a proprietary technology that enables communication using the Industrial, Scientific and Medical ISM radio band, which uses 868 MHz in Europe and 902 MHz in the U.S. Another IoT technology that uses unlicensed spectrum is LoRa, which Comcast is building out in 12 U.S. markets this year.

The companies pursuing unlicensed strategies enjoyed a time when cellular standards for LPWA IoT were not yet created, but since then, both AT&T and Verizon have launched LTE-M networks in the U.S., and Verizon and T-Mobile are each pursuing NB-IoT networks. Sprint also has said it plans to begin deploying LTE Cat M in mid-2018, followed by LTE Cat NB1.

Research firm Dell’Oro Group recently predicted that IoT services based on cellular technologies like LTE M or NB-IoT will account for more than 98% of the nearly $33 billion in service provider and vendor revenues the space will generate by 2022.