Orange network chief says no NB-IoT services till 2018

NB-IoT will be a 2018 tech, despite early PR blasts from Vodafone and Deutsche Telekom this week. That's why Orange will launch LoRA first, switching customers over to the low power cellular IoT when it is ready.

As Deutsche Telekom trumpets that its commercial networks in Germany and The Netherlands can support NB-IoT today, and Vodafone says it will have commercial networks equipped with NB-IOT in Q1 2017, Orange’s SVP of network architecture & design, Alain Maloberti, has said that the operator will not have live, LTE-based commercial services until 2018.

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Orange’s Maloberti: LoRa has the ecosystem to enable launch now, NB-IoT not till 2018.

That’s not because the network won’t be ready – indeed Maloberti said Orange will start this year the upgrades that will enable its network to support NB-IoT. Rather, it’s because the ecosystem – devices, applications and service – will not be mature until that point.

If you look at the detail, or the missing details, of the DT and Vodafone announcements this week, you see something similar. Vodafone has said it will have network readiness on live, commercial networks by early 2017, but made no mention of actual service availability – referencing only some early trials.

DT, despite the hype in the release, has in fact also announced “only” the deployment of the NB-IoT network capability, with an SDK and test environment for developers now, and actual customer-facing services arriving later. Its release says,Developers receive a starter developer kit and support via their relevant hub with the aim to introduce first Narrowband IoT solutions by the end of 2017.” 

In fact the releases seem more targeted at being able to say one is the “first” to have a live network capability – or in Vodafone’s case to announced a live capability. And of course, DT’s announcement will irk Vodafone, given the latter has so publicly supported and driven the accelerated specification of NB-IoT, often in tandem with Huawei, the vendor that has also supported the DT rollout.

But neither release alters the likely 2018 timescale of NB-IoT, and that timescale is why Orange, which wants to address the IoT opportunity as soon as possible, has forged ahead with a nationwide rollout of LoRa technology.

Maloberti confirmed that the operator would operate both access technologies in tandem, with a single service layer above both wireless connectivity layers allowing it, in time, to transfer customers from the LoRa network to the LTE NB-IoT network.

“Clearly in the long term the target is to have those features (IoT) in the cellular network because this will ensure complete coverage. However we started with LoRa because in France there is a demand from businesses, and the only technology that was available and for which we have the ecosystem was LORA.”

That NB-IoT is really a 2018 technology in terms of commercial availability at scale only emphasises the desire operators have to extend its life, casting some doubt on the near-term deployment of 5G networks as a major enabler of cellular IoT. Recently TMN has heard several operators propose the long life existence of NB-IoT, with IoT networks connected to 5G access really only deployed for the most ultra-reliable or massively dense environments.

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