Proving the Business Case for the Internet of Things

Operators see M2M revenue opportunity in unlicensed spectrum

Iain Morris
October 23, 2014
Operators gathered at this week’s Broadband World Forum in Amsterdam see a revenue opportunity in supporting the growing number of M2M devices using unlicensed spectrum.

Ovum reckons there will be a total of 550 million M2M connections using cellular communications by 2020, but a number of technology giants have predicted that billions of connected devices will be in use by that date.

As noted by Mark Newman, Ovum’s chief research officer, the implication is that the vast majority of these devices will use unlicensed spectrum and technologies such as Bluetooth to provide M2M services.

The prospect that billions of devices will use non-cellular technologies could be a “nightmare scenario” for operators, suggested Newman, giving the pressure they are under to “monetize” M2M.

According to Hugh Bradlow, the chief scientist for Australian telecoms giant Telstra (Melbourne), the rising use of unlicensed spectrum and low power technologies will pose a fresh challenge for operators in terms of providing the coverage needed to support smart city services.

Yet Bradlow is optimistic that operators will be able to charge smart city players, such as hospitals and other public sector organizations, for providing the gateways needed to provide low power radio across a particular coverage area.

“We would be able to get money by providing that service, with the customer being a hospital or city authorities,” he told attendees at the Broadband World Forum.

Norway’s Telenor (Fornebu) and French incumbent Orange (Paris), which featured on the same panel discussion as Telstra, were in broad agreement with Bradlow, and both flagged concern about the growing take-up of LTE technology in the M2M business.

According to Berit Svendsen, the chief executive of Telenor Norway, there needs to be more work on standardizing the 4G technology as the platform for M2M services.

Svendsen hinted that one problem may be the spectrum fragmentation that has occurred in the 4G business, with various frequency bands now being used to support LTE technology.

Although many regulators have allowed operators to refarm 2G spectrum for use with 4G services, others are more restrictive and some European countries have yet to award 4G spectrum to operators.

Telenor says that once it can more easily run M2M services over LTE networks it can think about shutting down some of its older infrastructure.

Alain Maloberti, the senior vice president of network architecture and design for Orange, said that more work needs to be done on making 4G suitable for use with low bitrate and low power applications like smart metering.

“Work is going on within the 3GPP to adapt LTE and 4G to these kinds of services,” he said.
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