M1 beats Singtel to the punch in NB-IoT network debut

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Singaporean cellco M1 is first out of the gate in the island’s cellular-IoT race with Monday’s launch of its commercial nationwide NB-IoT network, with Singtel vowing to launch its own NB-IoT network by the end of next month.

M1 says its NB-IoT network – developed in partnership with Nokia – will enable solution providers and businesses to develop and deploy IoT-enabled solutions such as smart energy management for buildings, environmental monitoring, asset tracking and fleet management.

The network already has one publicly announced customer – Keppel Electric, who is collaborating with M1 on a pilot for energy management meters that help commercial, industrial and residential customers keep track of energy usage. Keppel says the NB-IoT network will enable it to deploy power and water meters to its customers’ premises faster and more cost-effectively.

“With the full liberalization of the electricity market expected in 2018, the launch of M1’s NB-IoT network is a timely development for us and our customers, who will get to enjoy easy access to useful real-time consumption data at a lower cost,” said Keppel Electric general manager Janice Bong in a statement.

While M1 was launching its NB-IoT network, incumbent rival Singtel announced on Monday it will launch its own IoT network at the end of September that will support both NB-IoT and LTE-M/CatM-1. (Both are IoT standards developed by the 3GPP – the key difference is that NB-IoT is more flexible in terms of spectrum band usage.)

Apart from talking up the benefits of NB-IoT – such as low-power consumption, deep coverage and multiple connections – Singtel also addressed the issue of IoT security by promoting the inherent security features of NB-IoT combined with the telco’s cyber security expertise to provide secure and reliable IoT solutions:

This will greatly alleviate security concerns, which is a key deterrent for businesses in deciding whether to deploy remote sensors and IoT devices to their ecosystems, according to IDC.

Singtel also noted the network’s support for Cat-M1 would enable businesses to make VoLTE calls using small portable devices such as wearables and trackers with voice capability.

Singtel said it will be inviting businesses and technology partners to try out and develop IoT solutions at the IoT Innovation Lab it set up in collaboration with Ericsson earlier this year.

Meanwhile, Techgoondu reports that Singapore operator StarHub won’t be sitting on the NB-IoT sidelines:

StarHub, meanwhile, told Techgoondu that it is currently rolling out an NB-IoT network across the island and installing gateways and sensors to facilitate ongoing solutions trials. These include tamper-proof locks for urban logistics and smart water metering, according to a spokesman.

Both M1 and Singtel touted the importance of IoT in general and NB-IoT in particular as a key component of the Singapore’s “Smart Nation” initiative – a point echoed by Tan Kiat How, chief executive of the Infocomm Media Development Authority of Singapore (IMDA) in a statement supporting the M1 launch:

“The Internet of Things is a key technology area for growth which will drive Singapore’s Digital Economy for a Smart Nation […] We encourage companies to embrace the exciting benefits of NB-IoT as we move towards the digital future.”

However, NB-IoT isn’t the only low-power wide area (LPWA) wireless IoT network in town. UnaBiz launched its nationwide IoT network in Singapore in February using LPWA technology Sigfox, and is currently offering devices at price points below what the average NB-IoT device costs, according to Charles Reed Anderson & Associates.

The GSMA – which has been pushing NB-IoT and LTE-M as a way for its operator members to compete in the LPWA IoT network space against technologies like Sigfox and LoRa – is banking on economies of scale to bring device prices down in the long run as more operators adopt NB-IoT and LTE-M.

That may take some time, as NB-IoT is only just getting off the ground. According to the latest stats from the Global mobile Suppliers Association (GSA), eight operators besides M1 have officially launched commercial NB-IoT services: Etisalat, Vodafone Spain, Vodafone Netherlands, Vodacom South Africa, Deutsche Telekom, China Unicom, KT and LG Uplus (although the latter two are operating a joint network).

The GSA also said there are 15 planned LTE-M/Cat-M1 or NB-IoT/Cat-NB1 networks expected to launch in 2017 and 2018 (including Singtel).

In terms of device support, the GSA says vendors have released 14 modules supporting NB-IoT and 20 supporting LTE-M.

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