Vodafone's U.S. IoT chief: Forget Sigfox and LoRa, NB-IoT 'makes a significant amount of sense'

Vodafone U.S. IoT Chief Andrew Morawski. Image credit: Vodafone

The head of Vodafone's IoT business in the United States isn't worried about the progress Sigfox and LoRa technology supporters have made in building out wide-scale wireless networks for water meters, health monitors and other machines. Instead, he said NB-IoT technology will likely create a major new market opportunity in the space for LTE operators globally.

"As for the likes of Sigfox and LoRa, are we seeing them out in the market place yet? No, because we don't really play in that market space, that's kind of the lower end of the market, short messaging and that type of thing," Andrew Morawski, the head of Vodafone's IoT business in the Americas, told FierceWireless. "Sigfox started early, I don't think they have that much of a head start that will help them in the market space. This is where the numbers in the billions come into play, in the number-of-devices-to-connect perspective. It's a massive opportunity."

Morawski added that Narrowband IoT technology, which works in LTE networks, benefits from security and licensed spectrum.

"With Narrowband IoT, if I had the choice between developing a solution I'm going to take to market as a customer, or managing a solution that we provide in general, 10 out of 10 times I'm going to choose the technology that's going to give me secure, guaranteed throughput and connectivity, even if it is just for small, short messages that I need to send," he said. "And that's why, from my perspective, Narrowband IoT makes a significant amount of sense in the marketplace."

Morawski's comments are noteworthy considering the gains Sigfox, LoRa and other non-cellular options have made in the United States and globally in the IoT sector. Sigfox, which operates its own slow-speed wireless network in the unlicensed ISM 902 MHz band, has promised to cover 100 U.S. cities with its IoT network by the end of this year. And Senet, which describes itself as the first and only North American provider of public, low-power, wide-area networks (LPWANs) for LoRa-based Internet of Things (IoT) applications, says it has achieved coverage in 100 U.S. cities and plans to double that number over the next year.

Meantime, U.S. carriers are working to provide their own competing slow-speed, low-power offerings based on their LTE networks. Mark Bartolomeo, vice president IoT Connected Solutions at Verizon, told FierceWireless in April that Verizon is supporting LTE Cat 1 devices commercially today, and that Cat M and 0 devices are currently being tested. Meantime, AT&T (NYSE: T) said earlier this month it will launch a pilot of Cat-M1 network technologies later this year as it looks to help businesses cut costs and boost device performance for IoT deployments.

Morawski said Vodafone too is moving along this same path. He explained that Cat-M1, Cat 1 and other, similar options all fall under the Narrowband IoT (NB-IoT) heading, and that Vodafone recently announced it will test NB-IoT network technology in Turkey and Spain this year with the goal of rolling it out across most of Vodafone's European network next year.

"And from a Vodafone perspective, as well, financially it makes tremendous sense because 85 percent of our network is capable of doing it [NB-IoT], it's just a software upgrade," he said. "For big, broad scale deployments I'm putting my money behind Narrowband IoT."

Vodafone's approach to the IoT market stands in contrast to SK Telecom, which recently announced the completion of its nationwide deployment of a low power wide area network (LPWAN) based on LoRa technology, covering 99 percent of the population in Korea. Interesting, the company is covering its bases, securing both nationwide LTE-M and LoRaWAN as the two main pillars for its IoT network. The company completed its nationwide LTE-M rollout in March.

To be clear, Vodafone doesn't operate a wireless network in the United States. Instead, Morawski and his team sell IoT products and solutions globally that work on Vodafone's network where available and then roam onto the carrier's partner networks in other areas. In the United States, Vodafone's IoT platform and programmable SIM cards primarily work on the networks of AT&T and T-Mobile US, though they can also roam onto Verizon's network.

Vodafone's IoT business counts 38 million global connections and enjoyed 29 percent year-over-year revenue growth, Morawski said. "We're tracking quite well," he said.

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