To wait or not to wait (for standards), that is the question

Dec 08, 2015

Back in February 2015, Verizon, Sequans and Ericsson announced that they were conducting a trial of LTE User Equipment (UE) Cat 1 devices, using Verizon’s service, Sequans’ LTE chipset, and Ericsson’s LTE network in the United States. Within the year early December, Verizon announced that it has now the capabilities to power IoT applications that run on “the world’s first LTE Cat 1 network”. The news added to a year of significant developments in various communications networks supportive of the journey towards an Internet of Things (IoT) future.   

  1. 3GPP ratified LTE Release 12 or Cat 0 in March 2015. Throughout the year, proponents of LTE-M, the licensed low power variant of LTE, championed the progress in getting it through 3GPP on time and on target for a February 2016 release.
  2. Many mobile network operators have also diversified in their machine-to-machine (M2M) offerings to include such alternative technologies such as low power networks. First, Orange was trialling LoRaWAN, a proprietary, long-range and bi-directional radio technology for IoT, in France.  Secondly, Vodafone’s IoT foray was revealed in February this year, getting involved in trials with Huawei’s then newly acquired asset in Neul or Weightless M2M technology.  Lastly, Deutsche Telekom and Huawei also announced in October the first pre-standards NB-IoT network in Germany, demonstrating the viability of a standards-based low powered cellular network.  
  3. Another proprietary low powered network technology from SigFox continued to acquire communications service provider partners in geographies to start growing IoT adoption. Via the backing of a substantial marketing budget, SigFox keeps a high media profile with regular customers and new SigFox Network Operators acquisitions. Alternative ultra-narrow band network technologies such as Telensa have also progressed with smart cities contract renewal wins.   

Proprietary vendors focus on their immediate availability to allow enterprises grab the benefits of IoT now. Others focus on the importance of caution to wait out “what is only 2 years” to use licensed communications (LTE-M) that provides the functionality and also the inherent security embedded in 3GPP networks. These developments do not help with clarifying enterprises’ investment decisions and certainly weakens enterprises’ confidence in the future-proof nature of such a fundamental component as communications in an already difficult IoT investment case.

To wait or not to wait (for standards), that is the question. However, the root question should also be deflected back to who is asking whether to wait for a standard or not. IoT benefits all manners of enterprises from large multinationals to micro-businesses with zero employees or limited geographies. IoT also touches all manners of entities, including interactions with or for consumers. For enterprises with a relatively contained set of consumers, currently available technologies already offer a revenue generating route. SigFox highlights a consumer-facing application for pet owners in a straight forward way for a small enterprise fulfilling pet owners’ obsession with their pet 24/7. The use of sensors in waste bins could be the first step in building an eco-friendly household in future. However, for enterprises with multi-geographies, complex customer segments, strict service level agreements on service rendered, the wait and see attitude will be more favourable. These are businesses where IoT investment is only part of an organisation-wide digital transformation strategy.

Technology proponents have a natural tendency to focus on all the benefits of the specifications but businesses do not think for a second about the technology first then the benefits. The debate within the industry so far has so often neglected to champion the various business reasons for supporting a diverse technology eco-system. For IoT to prosper and diversify, it is essential that the relevant components are conducive to all types of end-users at different times and conditions. This “only 2 years” window of opportunity for proprietary technologies will drive the smaller but still essential applications to enrich the eventual IoT future.

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Yiru Zhong


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