Huawei says 4.5G is ready for ‘massive commercialisation’ as Nb-IoT looks to launch in 2017
While much of the attention on day one of Mobile World Congress (MWC) in Barcelona has been paid to smartphones, wearables and other gadgets, mobile operators and equipment manufacturers have been outlining how two new network advances – 4.5G and Narrowband IoT (Nb-IoT) – will power future mobile devices and the Internet of Things (IoT).
4.5G is an upgraded version of LTE that Huawei and others say will allow operators to boost their existing infrastructure ahead of the anticipated launch of commercial 5G networks in 2020. It is claimed the additional capacity, faster speeds and low latency can support the Internet of Things, virtual reality applications and critical industrial processes.
Huawei and Qualcomm have now achieved real world speeds of 1Gbps, and say this shows 4.5G is ready on both the infrastructure and device side, while trials between the Chinese firm and Australian operator Optus have reached 1.41Gbps in lab tests.
It is claimed 60 4.5G networks will start operating in 2016 and Huawei said more than 20 operators have already tested the upgrade to LTE, including in Hong Kong where TechWeekEurope witnessed the technology in action first hand on HKT’s network.
To promote the technology, Huawei has held a ‘4.5G summit’ to let operators share best practices and recent developments and has launched a smaller, more powerful base station that can support 1Gbps networks and Nb-IoT.
Internet of Things
Nb-IoT is one of three cellular standards for the IoT backed by the mobile industry, along with Extended Coverage EGPRS (EC-EGPRS) and LTE Machine Type Communication (Cat-M). As a Low Power Wide Area (LPWA) technology, Nb-IoT has the potential to make it more efficient to connect devices that require long battery life or are in hard to reach areas using existing cellular networks.
It is claimed NB-IoT is able to provide a battery life of ten years, costs $5 per module to deploy and has scalability, while at the same time providing the range of a cellular network. Many IoT devices are expected to be deployed away from mains electricity and it is simply not feasible or cost-efficient for the battery to be replaced frequently.
LPWA has strong support from the mobile industry, which it sees as necessary for it to compete with other standards like Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and SIGFOX, and has grown frustrated at a lack of progress with standardisation.
Vodafone, one of the most vocal critics of the delays, is establishing an NB-IoT open lab with Huawei to accelerate development of applications, business models and device integration and compliance modules using pre-standard Nb-IoT technology.
“As the technology moves towards commercial deployment in early 2017, it’s essential that we start building a strong ecosystem with developers and solution providers,” said Luke Ibbetson, Vodafone Group R&D Director and Chairman of the NB-IoT Forum.
The open lab will eventually be incorporated into a planned network of labs operating under the GSMA’s Nb-IoT Forum umbrella in the future. Huawei’s rival Ericsson is working with Singapore operator SingTel on trials as well.
The GSMA has welcomed the moves to further standardisation of LPWA technologies and accelerate cellular IoT development.
“LPWA is an emerging, high-growth area of the Internet of Things but it requires common, global standards in licensed spectrum in order for it to scale effectively and deliver secure, reliable and robust performance,” said Alex Sinclair, Chief Technology Officer, GSMA. “With high-quality managed networks, mobile operators are well placed to deliver these industry standard solutions which offer customers a clear choice and we are excited to see the industry move so quickly to provide commercial solutions.”
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