Operators and vendors join forces to push cellular IoT networks

The first networks will be rolled out next year

Backed by the likes of AT&T, Intel and Qualcomm, industry organization GSMA has launched an initiative to accelerate the roll out of cellular networks customized for machine-to-machine communications.

The growing interest in machine-to-machine communications has resulted in a need for so-called LPWA (Low Power Wide Area) networks that are customized for applications that have low data rates, long battery lives and operate unattended for long periods of time.

Today a lot of different technologies and their backers are vying to dominate this burgeoning area. With the forming of the Mobile IoT Initiative, the cellular industry is aiming to pool its resources and accelerate the commercial availability of services.

It hopes to do this this with demonstrations, proofs of concept and trials of a selection of LPWA technologies. The members of the initiative will also provide analysis and feedback to help standards organization 3GPP standardize the technologies. The GSMA is also working on improving IoT security, an area that needs work as recent revelations of hacked cars have shown.

No single network technology is capable of addressing all use cases, so the initiative will focus on developing LTE and GSM.

"We already have cellular networks out there, and need to make better use of those networks," said Shane Rooney, executive director at the GSMA.

A third alternative is just known as Clean Slate, which proposes to combine a new radio with GSM frequencies.

Initial specifications for cellular LPWA networks are expected to be completed by the end of 2015, with a first implementation in early 2016 and commercial rollouts following later in the year, according to the GSMA.

The initiative is backed by mobile operators, network equipment vendors and chip makers, including AT&T, Alcatel-Lucent, China Mobile, Deutsche Telekom, Ericsson, Huawei Technologies, Gemalto, Intel, KDDI, Nokia, NTT DoCoMo, Orange, Sierra Wireless, Telefonica, Telstra, and Vodafone.

The Mobile IoT Initiative and its backers are far from alone in wanting to develop the networks that will carry machine-to-machine traffic. For example, the LoRa Alliance, whose members include IBM and Cisco Systems, is promoting the LoRaWAN protocol as the foundation for wide-area networks.

Other candidates in use or under development are Weightless, RPMA (Random Phase Multiple Access) from On-Ramp Wireless, and a technology from French company Sigfox.

It's still early days, and the industry is now in a land-grab phase where everyone is trying to get ahead to establish their presence, according to Gartner analyst Nick Jones. The IoT networking sector will remain very confused for several years, and at least ten different technologies will gain traction, he said earlier this year.

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