Simplify the complexity of IoT to enable LTE adoption and long-term IoT success
As the cellular connectivity landscape continues to evolve, it is increasingly important for organisations to consider a network solution that will provide the longevity needed to experience long-term IoT success. In this interview, Bill Kramer, the executive vice president of IoT Solutions at KORE, shares insights regarding the global impact of legacy network shut downs, emerging low power (LPWA) LTE technologies, and KORE’s approach toward helping customers successfully transition existing IoT devices to LTE.
IoT Now: What are some of the primary drivers influencing organisations to deploy their IoT solutions on LTE technologies? Why should those who may have already deployed on different technologies be considering an upgrade to LTE?
Bill Kramer: The most important factor is that many global carriers are continuing to farm their spectrum to cater to consumer demand for highspeed, high bandwidth 4G LTE connectivity, which is resulting in the sunset of legacy 2G and 3G networks. In regions such as North America and Asia Pacific this process is much further along; however, businesses operating in regions such as Europe that have not yet been directly impacted should still be aware – especially if their IoT deployments are global.
Aside from longevity, LTE technologies deliver many other benefits to businesses deploying IoT. With the introduction of new, low power wide area (LPWA) LTE options such as narrowband IoT (NB-IoT) and Category M1 (LTE-M), organisations benefit from characteristics such as greater penetration and longer battery life, among others, at price points for hardware and service costs comparable to 2G/3G.
These areas, of course, impact businesses with new IoT deployments as well as many with existing deployments originally built on 2G/3G networks. Organisations launching new IoT solutions should be looking to LTE to ensure long-term, efficient network technology functionality that will help them maximise the return on investment (ROI) from their IoT investments. Similarly, those with existing deployments should be looking to upgrade their devices as needed to maintain the health of their IoT implementation and continue to generate the greatest possible value.
IoT Now: Tell us a bit more about LPWA LTE – The benefits, the differences in technologies and availability?
BK: LPWA LTE technologies – including NB-IoT and LTE-M – are fairly new LTE categories that have just become commercially available over the last couple of years. These networks were specifically designed for IoT to deliver many of the same benefits as 2G and 3G, essentially acting as their replacements for IoT applications.
Both NB-IoT and LTE-M utilise existing cellular networks, meaning devices on these technologies can easily be installed to current networks by utilising existing cellular infrastructure. LTE-M is a lower power and bandwidth variant of LTE, which still supports voice communications and full mobility, while NB-IoT is the lowest power and bandwidth variant but does not support voice communication or cell tower handoff. This means that NB-IoT is not typically a suitable option for applications that require high mobility support. Common benefits of solutions deployed on LPWA LTE networks include:
- Very low power consumption with some applications boasting a battery life of ten or more years
- Low cellular module costs leading to low device unit costs
- Indoor and outdoor penetration up to seven times greater than traditional cellular technologies
- Scalable technology with ability to support large number of devices over a wide geographic area
- End-to-end secure connectivity and support for authentication appropriate to the IoT application
- Future-proofed technology with no fear of network sunsets in the next ten years
Although the benefits of LPWA LTE are clear, it must be understood availability is still developing today as a limited number of operators have commercially launched LTE-M or NB-IoT with many still in the piloting phases. It should be noted that, although the deployment of these networks is ultimately dependent on the carriers, KORE is actively working to ensure that new network technologies are available to our customers and partners for all representative carrier offerings as soon as they become available.
IoT Now: What are your thoughts on unlicensed spectrum technologies? How do they differ from licensed spectrum technologies?
BK: Prior to the emergence of NB-IoT and LTE-M, unlicensed networks were the only LPWA solution for new IoT solutions demanding lower power, longer range and longer battery life. Therefore, to date, many unlicensed spectrum options have dominated market share for applications with these requirements.
Although they are comparable in many ways, unlicensed options have some major differences of which businesses must be aware. Unlike licensed technologies which are standards-based and 99.999% interference-free, unlicensed spectrum does not require any special permit or license to operate. With that said, if multiple providers are operating in the same area, unlicensed connections may be subject to interference. Additionally, organisations using unlicensed spectrum technologies lose the benefit of carrier-grade security as each unlicensed operator implements its own proprietary security practices.
While we are seeing the market shifting towards licensed network technologies, there are still certain geographies and use cases where unlicensed spectrum options are an adequate solution. The superior choice for network connectivity is ultimately dependent on each business’ unique IoT application requirements.
IoT Now: For businesses with legacy devices in the field, do you have any recommendations or best practices you can share for making the transition to LTE as smooth as possible?
BK: The transition may seem daunting; however, working ahead with a thorough understanding of your timeline and technology requirements will make the process much easier to manage. In terms of timeline – the expediency of your migration to LTE will be dependent upon when your carrier – or carriers – plan to shut down their 2G or 3G networks. Another piece to keep in mind here is that some carriers will restrict any new activations on legacy networks before the actual sunset date which could impact the growth and scalability of a business’ IoT deployment. Often this information is not made publicly available, but by partnering with an independent and global IoT expert such as KORE – with more than 17 major carrier relationships around the globe and nearly two decades of IoT experience – organisations can benefit from an objective and accurate understanding of activation deadlines, sunset timelines, and alternative network options.
In regards to technology, organisations need to consider their application requirements in terms of a number of network capabilities including bandwidth, battery life, throughput, mobility support, voice support, and module cost – just to name a few. They must also consider which technologies are currently available in their geographies of operation. For example, an mPERS application in the United States might be best suited for LTE-M due to its mobile capabilities and regional availability, while a temperature sensor embedded in a prescription storage facility in the United Kingdom would be best suited for NB-IoT due to its static location and regional availability.
With timeline understanding and technology selection determined, businesses should have the baseline information needed to begin developing a migration strategy. However, as those in IoT already understand, executing IoT initiatives are much easier said than done. From staging and kitting, to installation and activation, to original equipment manufacturer (OEM) warranty management and end of life (EOL) disposition – there are an overwhelming number of details and considerations involved in a migration process that are often overlooked. With that in mind, I would highly recommend that businesses going through this process engage with an independent, agnostic provider, such as KORE, that can simplify the complexity of LTE migration and deliver the IoT expertise, products, and services required to guide businesses through the transition.