Open source and cable industry are terms seldom found in the same sentence. But that’s about to change and it might be a very big deal indeed. CableLabs is the jointly funded, common technical development organisation for the cable industry, worldwide. Its crown jewel is the twenty year old DOCSIS standard, which is the engine that drives data delivery over hybrid fiber-coax systems in the U.S., and most of the the rest of the world. Although widely adopted, it is proprietary to CableLabs and its members – you have to pay for privilege of using it, and you pretty much have to follow the specs as given.
It’s taken a radically different approach to low power, wireless Internet of Things technology, though. There are several solutions kicking around, including the LoRa Alliance, SigFox and an adaptation of LTE technology. CableLabs has chosen LoRa, which takes a similar approach to licensing and certification as the WiFi Alliance. Its not free or open source, but it is a widely available radio frequency (RF) platform that’s optimised for particular kinds of applications: low power, battery-operated devices that need to send signals relatively long distances, say a kilometer or two in cities, and 10 or 20 kilometers in rural areas.
[Low power wide area networks] need to be deployed broadly across national and international regions. This will enable the use of many sensors across these same regions. As we make use of the sensor data, it will enrich our lives with information to make better choices, ensure higher quality results and guide us towards a better future. By making a portion of this network available for open-source, our goal is to lower the barrier for the cable industry and other industry participants to enable these solutions for consumers and governments.
Interoperability and easy access to big data streams will drive IoT business models. CableLabs is giving its cable industry members a shot at owning a big chunk of that market by putting them at the center of what it hopes will be a well-populated ecosystem.
Making good on a promise, Verizon says it is rolling out wireless Internet of things (IoT) service nationally. During the CTIA show in Las Vegas last year, a Verizon representative said that the LTE M1 standard would be deployed throughout its U.S. network by April. Verizon beat that deadline by a day, saying in a press release that as of yesterday, it was launching…
The first nationwide commercial 4G LTE Category M1 (or Cat M1) network, which spans 2.4 million square miles. This is the first and only Cat M1 network providing scale, coverage and security for customers seeking wireless access solutions for IoT. Verizon’s Cat M1 network is built on a virtualized cloud environment which enables rapid and agile IoT solution deployment and nationwide scaling aimed at increasing IoT adoption for developers and businesses with new and more economical IoT data plans.
Service pricing starts at $2 for 200 KB per month, and scales up to $80 for 10 GB. IoT – also known as machine-to-machine or M2M – applications can be very parsimonious with bandwidth, so the low end package could be enough to support basic functionality for, say, an environmental monitor or on/off control for remote devices such as security lights or a heating/cooling system.
LTE M1 technology is a cut down version of regular LTE. The next rev will be the LTE NB1 standard – NB as in narrow band – which will be aimed at the ultra low power, ultra low bandwidth end of the market that’s currently targeted by the LoRa and Sigfox systems.
M1 equipment needs to be plugged in or recharged relatively frequently, ultra low power/bandwidth devices are designed to run off a small battery for a year or more. Both standards will find uses. For example, it might make perfect sense to pay $2 a month to control an electric irrigation pump with an always-available M1 connection, but the thousand or so soil and temperature sensors scattered around a field that support that pump can get by with much cheaper occasional 12 byte bursts, the kind of payloads that the ultra-low systems can deliver.
NB1 deployments could begin this year, but are more likely to go mainstream in 2018.
U.S. mobile carriers will offer specialised Internet of things (IoT) services in a big way next year. Some of the motivation is competitive, the result of pressure from companies using unlicensed spectrum, but it seems to be mostly the result of new technology protocols for the LTE standard that support IoT applications and, critically, business cases.
Verizon announced its plans for full, nationwide deployment of a key IoT standard by April 2017 at the Telit IoT Innovation conference in Las Vegas yesterday. Erik Varney, senior manager of IoT consulting at Verizon Wireless, said that their network will be upgraded to support the LTE category M1 protocol, which supports low bandwidth applications running on low power equipment, on licensed spectrum. As the table above shows, the M1 standard falls midway between the conventional LTE standard and the more aggressive LTE NB1 (for narrow band) which is optimised for fixed, very low power IoT devices for applications with very low bandwidth needs.
One question yet to be fully answered is how much will it cost? During audience Q&A, Varney said that Verizon is becoming more flexible and moving away from traditional mobile phone data plans, but more work is needed on the network side too: pricing models are, to a degree, a function of a network designed to support high priority, high priority communications on demand – 911 calls, for example – but IoT applications often involve intermittent, non-time sensitive transmission of a few bytes of data.
Ken Bednasz, vice president of application engineering at Telit (and the guy who presented the table above), pointed to 2018 as the time frame for IoT-optimised protocols, which were released earlier this year, to be in full, mass market deployment in the U.S. Cat M1 technology will come first and NB1-based systems, which he described as being better suited to new market segments, following.
Standard-setting groups have been trying to work out a peaceful coexistence strategy for traditional WiFi and carrier-class mobile data traffic in unlicensed bands. The mobile industry’s primary thrust is the LTE-U protocol, which would use the same basic technology as licensed 4G cell sites in the same bands as WiFi, with, it is hoped, sufficiently intelligent, active management of transmissions so as not to crowd out everyone else.
The Federal Communications Commission has to certify that the equipment being used meets its rules for operating in unlicensed spectrum, and it has held off doing so until the Wi-Fi Alliance comes to an agreement with mobile industry groups, including the LTE-U Forum, on coexistence plans. That process has not moved as quickly as originally hoped – no surprise – and now T-Mobile wants the FCC to move ahead next month, agreement or not…
It has been more than a year since the Wi-Fi Alliance announced that it was creating a cooperative process to evaluate coexistence between LTE-U and Wi-Fi devices, and the Commission has held off approving devices in anticipation of results from the process. Although the test plan is fundamentally complete, we have seen numerous deadlines come and go without finalization of the procedure…The delay in approving LTE-U devices is stifling innovation and investment in the communications ecosystem – one of the most vibrant segments of our economy that directly affects all Americans. There is no reason, therefore, to wait beyond September 2016 to permit use of this innovative new technology.
There are two ways to look at this. Either mobile carriers have the same right as anyone else to use unlicensed frequencies so everyone should get on with it, or WiFi has become such a ubiquitous public amenity that it deserves some sort of special protection in those bands. The FCC’s plan to wait until industry negotiations are complete is a worthy attempt to steer a middle course, but it seems to be at the point where it has to decide which way to finally turn.
Plans by mobile phone companies to use unlicensed spectrum – including that currently used by WiFi devices and wireless Internet service providers – to supplement licensed frequencies are getting a harder look from the Federal Communications Commission. The head of the FCC’s office of engineering and technology – Julius Knapp – is asking the Verizon-backed LTE-U Forum, an industry group that’s working on a standard for 4G broadband service in unlicensed bands, for more information on what, exactly, it’s up to.
Knapp’s concerns center on whether mobile carriers would “listen before talk” to determine whether someone was already using a frequency or just jump on top of a weaker signal…
Though the record reflects significant testing of [the Listen-Before-Talk technique called Carrier Sense Adaptive Transmission (CSAT)] sharing protocol with Wi-Fi, commenters did not provide information regarding the rationale behind the selection of certain key parameters for CSAT. Specifically we would like to know,what was the basis for selecting the maximum permissible transmission and minimum listening periods? Some specifications seem to suggest that these parameters are implementation-dependent and may be set by operators. Please explain the decision to have CSAT transmit on a channel even if it appears to be occupied.
The letter also raises the question of international coordination – other countries have tighter rules on use of unlicensed spectrum. Knapp is basically asking Verizon and the LTE-U Forum why it wants to implement a standard in the U.S. that wouldn’t be acceptable in most other countries. He’s wants an answer within a month.
The 2014 Consumer Electronics Show opens next week in Las Vegas, with preview events beginning on Sunday and the exhibit floor opening on Tuesday. The show lacks last year’s changing-of-the-guard fascination, when mobile kingpins and rising giants held prominent places in keynote and featured sessions. Instead, it’s about reviving the brands that were shouldered aside in 2013.
But there’s always something new to see at CES, with three trends looking particularly interesting…
Wearables – CES exhibit halls promise to be packed with smart watches, eyeglass mounted video displays and cameras, and various other small, wearable devices – health and fitness related in many cases – that serve as smart phone peripherals or substitutes. The question to answer is whether the category will remain awash in marginally useful gizmos or will killer apps and dominant products emerge?
Chinese brands – Like Japanese and Korean manufacturers before them, Chinese companies are leaving bargain bin positioning behind, and building brand equity at an even faster rate. Aided by a huge internal market and a strong base in rapidly evolving mobile product categories, the likes of ZTE, Huawei and Lenovo will finally have the floor presence and brand recognition to match their market share. Prediction for 2015: one of the three will get a major keynote slot and the other two will figure prominantly at featured CES events.
Bitcoin – At least four companies built around this virtual currency are either in the show or on its periphery. One is a hardware play – it makes specialised Bitcoin mining equipment – and the others are online services. For many years CES got energy and edge from the adult content industry: maybe there’s hope a fresh libertarian wind will invigorate it again.
I don’t expect to see much mobile buzz or home automation system news. Devices of both sorts will be floating around, but it looks like the mobile industry is waiting for the Barcelona show next month and home automation is still searching for a mainstream business model. Let’s hope for surprises.
Verizon’s approach to the machine-to-machine business is to stop selling hardware and just sell the service. Duncan Sensenich, from their M2M unit, was one of several mobile executives who spoke at Ovum’s M2M seminar at the CTIA Enterprise and Applications conference in San Diego today.
In this case, low expectations might have been the breeding ground for a lower cost, potentially higher profit way of doing business. The M2M segment was traditionally buried in Verizon’s financial reporting and its management structure. As the segment has grown, the company is starting to report M2M numbers, but the service-only business model is already set.
AT&T’s Abhi Ingle pointed out one of the weaknesses of that approach: a device maker could invest a lot of time and capital into developing something that doesn’t make the grade for carrier certification. The responsibility falls on developers to work with carriers earlier in the development process.
Still, meeting a carrier’s technical specifications and passing objective tests is a lot easier than trying to sell it a new line of business.
The hot M2M markets discussed included utilities – millions of smart meters have already been deployed with growth accelerating – and health care. Mobile networks are ideal for delivering real-time data from wearable (or implantable) medical devices.
The cost of the devices and associated service could eventually become low enough to use for preventative monitoring. The biggest barriers aren’t technical or financial, though. The greatest difficulty is in managing the regulatory restrictions on medical information and overcoming the bureaucratic inertia of insurance companies and regulators.
Checking out ISC show at Sands, lots of vendors, buyers & energy. Bull market for security these days. WiMAX vendors split between ISC & CTIA, focus is on 2.5 GHz for Clearwire, lots of competition at other frequencies.
Back at CTIA, LTE has the support of the big guns at this show. WiMAX US hopes are pinned on Clearwire, more happening internationally though.
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IMS/NGN Forum working on common mobile standards from within system. Is there middle ground between open source & walled gardens? Multitech Systems started making modems 38 years ago in a Minneapolis basement, now building M2M radios.
Multitech puts chips in defibrillators to talk to ERs. And other apps. Could be key to Craig Barrett’s 1,000 radio per person vision. Beceem makes Wimax 802.16e CPE (and mobile USB dongle) chips for Clearwire, others. Competes with Sequans, hope both win. Slick user hardware will make the WiMAX biz model.
Another happy hour on CTIA show floor with free drinks. Good vibe, good show, not a bad business to be in given the economy.
Leaving CTIA and Las Vegas with optimism. Looking forward to ride home on Virgin America. Disco balls & WiFi – the perfect airline.