Licensed Spectrum Is Key To The Success Of LPWA Networks In IoT


OPINION: GSMA executive director discusses the future of LPWA networks in an IoT world and why licensed spectrum is the answer

Cellular is one of numerous technologies bidding to connect the Internet of Things (IoT), along wuth Bluetooth, Wi-Fi and proprietary standards like Sigfox. LPWA networks such as NB-IoT are seen as essential if telecoms operators are to compete for business and offer new services that deliver additional revenue.

Unlicensed spectrum is seen as a way of powering innovative wireless services, but here  Shane Rooney, executive director of the GSMA, makes the case for LPWA and licensed spectrum in an IoT world. 

As more and more players enter the IoT market, the development of an infrastructure to support billions of new devices has become a necessity.

As many key decision makers have come to realise, Low Power Wide Area networks (LPWA) are a viable solution, and accelerating the commercial availability of these networks is crucial to ensuring the billions of connected devices, across a diverse range of vertical industry sectors such as utilities, agriculture, manufacturing and transport are linked in a safe and secure way.  

IoT device

Why LPWA is important 

LPWA networks are an emerging, high-growth area of the IoT that complement and extend conventional wide area networks that make use of 2G, 3G and 4G cellular technologies. They  are designed for low cost applications that have low data rates, long battery lives, long reach and operate in remote and hard to reach locations where existing mobile technologies may not be well suited. 

This could be anything from industrial asset tracking, safety monitoring, water and gas metering to smart grids, city parking, vending machines and city lighting. The LPWA market has the potential to be huge, with analyst house, Analysys Mason, estimating that there will be 5 billion LPWA connections by 2022 with a value of US$7.5 billion (£5.8bn). 

Due to the diversity of IoT application requirements, a single technology is not capable of addressing every LPWA use case.

For this reason the GSMA focuses on two complementary technologies; Narrow-Band IoT (NB-IoT) and LTE -M to ensure customer choice and help the market to flourish. These have been ratified and standardised by 3GPP.  

Licensed spectrum

LPWA works well as licensed spectrum is a more reliable choice, offering a better quality of service. Unlicensed is free and open to anybody to use but has a number of significant drawbacks and potential security downfalls. 

For example, it is subject to interference and congestion and cannot be relied upon to deliver a pre-defined quality of service. In some markets, regulatory restrictions can also apply to the use of unlicensed spectrum making it difficult to generate global economies of scale. 

Conversely, licensed spectrum offers customers a choice without locking them into a particular technology or supplier as their business changes. It is also scalable, secure and its infrastructure provides a Quality of Service (QoS) unlike unlicensed spectrum, which has restrictive data message lengths and availability. 

Given the limitations of unlicensed spectrum, mobile operators have a clear long-term preference to employ licensed spectrum for LPWA, as this will enable them to build a sustainable long-term global IoT market presence.    

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