While mobile operators often claim bragging rights to the fastest smartphone connections, another rivalry is heating up around networks that aren't fast at all: Their claim to fame is that they don't suck up power.
On Friday, Intel said it would work with cellular heavyweights Ericsson and Nokia to commercialize NB-LTE (Narrow-Band LTE), a variant of the latest cellular technology that uses a small amount of radio spectrum to efficiently carry small amounts of data. Also this week, low-power network specialist Ingenu said it would build a network across the U.S. within two years.
Those are just two of the systems being promoted as the perfect glue to connect the burgeoning Internet of Things. They're vying to become the network of choice for electric meters, street lamps, pipelines and other infrastructure. By 2020, nearly 1.5 million devices will be connected to LPWA (low-power wide area) networks, Machina Research estimates. LPWA will cut the cost of IoT and make it useful for more things, Machina analyst Godfrey Chua said.
Many IoT devices still use 2G cellular networks, which carriers are gradually winding down. NB-LTE is one way to bring those clients, and many more now emerging, onto the current generation of cells.
Intel says it has a roadmap for NB-LTE chipsets to support a commercial rollout of the technology beginning next year. Nokia and Ericsson will provide the necessary upgrades to carrier networks.
NB-LTE will let current service providers use existing networks to connect IoT devices, the companies said. But there are other approaches to IoT both within and outside the LTE world. Huawei Technologies is promoting a system called Cellular IoT, the LoRa Alliance industry group backs a non-LTE technology that's been adopted by some carriers, and startup SigFox has deployed an LPWA system across France and is now going after the U.S. market.
Ingenu claims its system allows for longer battery life in connected devices than any other network. It's also faster than SigFox's technology and allows for two-way communication, Ingenu CEO John Horn said.
Ingenu is a rebranding of On-Ramp Wireless, which was known for building private LPWA networks for municipalities and companies in fields like utilities and oil and gas. Its new network will be public, meaning any company or government agency that wants to use it can sign up. Ingenu will let customers pay for service in a variety of ways.
Ingenu's network, running on unlicensed spectrum, will top out at just 600Kbps (bits per second) downstream and 100Kbps upstream, a small fraction of what LTE delivers. But it's far faster than SigFox (about 500 bits per second in the U.S.) and will be able to serve more than 90 percent of IoT devices, Horn said.
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