By Steve McCaskill
Vodafone is enhancing its Internet of things (IoT) network with the rollout of Narrowband IoT (Nb-IoT) and a roaming agreement with satellite broadband provider Inmarsat.
NB-IoT is a Low Power Wide Area (LPWA) technology, which makes it more efficient to connect devices that require long battery life or are in hard to reach areas using existing cellular networks.
Vodafone has been a vocal supporter of Nb-IoT, and had expressed frustration over a lack of progress in finalizing the standard, claiming that without it, cellular technology will be too power hungry and expensive to power the Internet of things (IoT), paving the way for WiFi, Bluetooth and proprietary technologies like Sigfox to take control.
It has opened an Nb-IoT lab with Huawei at its campus in Newbury and has held trials of the technology in Spain.
And now it will rollout Nb-IoT networks in Germany, Ireland, the Netherlands and Spain in the first three months of 2017 before expanding across its entire global footprint by 2020. Vodafone will issue a simple upgrade to its existing 4G base stations, meaning nationwide coverage will be immediate.
"The questions of battery life and deep in-building penetration have now been answered by NB-IoT," said Ivo Rook, Vodafone director of IoT. "The low cost of the modules means we can expect a new wave of connected devices and soaring market demand. Vodafone's world leading expertise and experience in IoT will prove invaluable in shaping this exciting market."
But of course some IoT systems, such as those installed in remote parts of the world or at sea, will be beyond the reach of terrestrial networks. To fill in the gaps, Vodafone is looking to Inmarsat's L-band satellite network.
It is claimed the agreement will serve industries such as agriculture, oil, gas and transportation with reliable communications, even in extreme weather.
"Success in IoT demands a mix of different technologies for different applications," added Rook. "By adding satellite connectivity from Inmarsat to the Vodafone portfolio we continue to deliver on our strategy to lead in managed IoT services.
"The IoT is transforming businesses in every sector and I am delighted we are able to support more of our customers in taking advantage of all that this technology has to offer."
"Deploying satellite connectivity to complement terrestrial networks for IoT applications changes the Internet of Things into the Internet of Everywhere," added Rupert Pearce, Inmarsat CEO. "The growth in mission critical IoT applications, is driving demand for connectivity with unprecedented reach, range and reliability on a global basis.
"This agreement marks a first for Inmarsat; enabling a mobile operator to utilize broadband roaming services on our global network.