Spark firms up CAT-M1 rollout plans

Spark has announced that it will commence trials of an LTE Cat-M1 network for IoT applications this month

Spark has announced that it will commence trials of an LTE Cat-M1 network for IoT applications during November ahead of delivering a commercial network early in 2018 that it says will “cover 95 percent of the places New Zealanders live, work and play.”

Spark’s general manager for IoT, Michael Stribling, said the company was working with customers on a broad range of use cases for M1. “M1 is a secure, high-quality network, ideal where sensors and devices are transferring large amounts of data regularly and real-time access to that data is critical. … Great examples include vehicle telematics, smart metering, smart health devices and smart cities applications such as lighting and environmental monitoring.”

Spark said it was progressing a dual-network strategy for IoT, finalising a rollout plan for the commercial launch of a LoRaWAN network, that it had been testing LoRaWAN in industrial and agriculture markets, and expected to release further detail in coming weeks.

“This strategy involving both M1 and LoRa is consistent with the path of many European, Asian and US telecommunications companies,” it said.

Stribling said the company was seeing different uses for different IoT networks emerging. “So it makes sense to provide multiple networks to answer the multiple needs of New Zealand organisations.”

What about NB-IoT?

Absent from Spark’s announcement was NB-IoT, another LTE variant designed for IoT. Vodafone announced plans for an NB-IoT rollout in July and within days Spark had foreshadowed plans for both CAT-M1 and NB-IoT rollouts, saying: “Spark is also advancing plans to deploy mobile network-based IoT networks (LTE-M1 and Narrow-Band LTE).”

Spark told Computerworld NZ that it planned to deploy a NB-IoT network when ecosystems around the technology had matured.

“On the other hand, a technology like LoRaWAN has a much more mature ecosystem so at this stage we are prioritising investment in LoRaWAN to support the types of low bandwidth and low power IoT use cases that might also be served by NB-IoT.,” the company said.

In Australia a similar scenario is playing out with Telstra now having a national CAT-M1 network and Vodafone Australia starting trials of NB-IoT. Opinions differ on the performance characteristics and the relative merits of the two technologies.

In a blog post, Itay Lusky, senior director of strategic product marketing at Altair Semiconductor compared of the relative merits of the two technologies and concluded:

“Both CAT-M1 and NB-IoT are being pursued aggressively to become the de-facto connectivity solution for IoT products. While both standards fare well in different scenarios, it is critical not to take market perceptions at face value but rather compare both solutions evenly, all things being equal, in order to make the right technology decisions.

“We analysed three key KPIs including coverage, cost and power consumption. While the market perception is that NB-IoT has a clear advantage over CAT-M1 for these KPIs, we conclude that CAT-M1 actually offers advantages for coverage and power, and only a minimal cost disadvantage when compared to NB-IoT.

“Future platforms that support both CAT-M1 and NB-IoT may ultimately allow providers to hedge their bets, but until then it is crucial to understand the technical data and consider the real added-value before choosing.”

 

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