IoT Blog

IoT Blog

A Snapshot of Growing LPWA Deployments in Europe

by Nicolas Damour, Senior Manager, Business & Innovation Development
When the 3GPP released the three LPWA standards – LTE-M, NB-IOT, EC-GSM-IOT – a likely development was that they would be deployed based on regional infrastructure and coverage available, which we outlined in a previous post, A Guide to Decoding LPWA Technologies. As a result it was also thought that customers would not be able to choose which technology to deploy as only one would likely be available in a given region. As public announcements from carriers come out, it now appears that at least in Europe, diversity and freedom of choice is really what will define the landscape for the years to come.

LTE-M is alive in Europe
Although it is true that LTE-M (Cat-M1) is being deployed extensively in North America, Japan, Korea, and Australia where 4G coverage is strong; it is also very much being deployed in Europe. The main reasons for doing so are the extreme versatility of LTE-M technology compared to NB-IoT. LTE-M supports higher transfer speeds, better latency, connected mobility and voice support. A strong argument in favor of LTE-M is also its greater ease of deployment on existing LTE networks. All of this, while still supporting the same greatly reduced power consumption and vastly enhanced radio coverage compared to traditional cellular, as NB-IoT.

This week for example, Orange opened up Europe’s first LTE-M Open IoT Lab for testing devices in Paris, France. Their labs includes starter kits for LTE-M using the mangOH® Open Hardware platform along with Sierra Wireless LTE-M wireless modules. Orange plans to deploy their LTE-M networks in Belgium and Spain in 2017 and has aggressive plans for its European flagship in France, before extending in further countries.

Another big proponent of LTE-M in Europe is Telefonica, which demonstrated a live LTE-M network at Mobile World Congress last month in Barcelona, with demos of Smart City applications powered by Sierra Wireless HL Series modules.

Elsewhere in Europe, KPN is upgrading their cell towers rapidly in order to offer a nationwide LTE-M network by the end of 2017. And other operators in the region are currently looking at deploying an LTE-M network too.

NB-IOT still strong in EU, albeit with some delay
NB-IOT is still on track to commercialize in 2017 despite some delays. According to some sources, a potential cause for the delay is the need to perform further testing to ensure interoperability. Leading the charge are Vodafone, and Deutsche Telekom (T-Mobile) in Europe, which are expected to turn their NB-IOT networks on later in Q3 2017. 

And let’s not forget EC-GSM-IOT
EC-GSM-IOT is the third LPWA standard ratified by the 3GPP but has received a lot less attention. This 2G-based technology still shows much promise though, especially in regions with scarce 4G coverage, including parts of Europe, Africa, Asia and Latin America. One example of this technology moving forward is from Groundtruth, which demonstrated a weather station using the technology together with Orange, Sierra Wireless, and Nokia. Certainly a technology to keep an eye on.

Freedom of choice? Customers in the UK, Germany, and Spain do get choice

Although it is true that most carriers in the first few years are choosing to deploy only one LPWA standard, Telefonica is giving their customers choice by deploying both LTE-M and NB-IOT. For companies deploying IoT devices in the UK, Germany, or Spain, they can choose which technology to use. For more on the differences between LTE-M and NB-IOT, refer to A Guide to Decoding LPWA Technologies.

The good news is that although current LPWA modules from Sierra Wireless support only one technology, all the ones coming in the course of this year will be “multi-mode”, supporting several technologies at the same time (notably LTE-M and NB-IOT). Customers who Start with Sierra will have choice as to which network operator they’d like to work with, and flexibility to deploy the same hardware worldwide.