Author(s): Raghu Gopal
This week, SK Telecom, South Korea's leading network operator, and Dutch telecom operator KPN deployed nationwide LoRa networks for Internet of things (IoT) applications. Both companies are members of the LoRa Alliance. The newly-launched long-range wide area networks use a low-power wireless network protocol specifically designed for Internet-connected, battery-operated devices, transmitting small amounts of data at very low speeds. Currently most IoT devices communicate over low-power but short-range networks like Bluetooth, Wi-Fi or specialist protocols such as ZigBee, or over conventional cellular networks, which have better coverage but are more expensive and consume more power.
With SK Telecom's plans to offer attractive prices, the company expects to connect over 4 million devices to its dedicated IoT networks by the end of 2017. It also plans to develop services in the areas of metering, tracking and monitoring. In the metering area, it's focussing on advanced metering infrastructure, which enables utilities to not only accurately measure and monitor usage, but also control the metering devices. SK Telecom is looking to increase coverage and launch a total of 20 LoRa-based IoT services by the end of 2016.
Dutch telecom operator KPN has also deployed a nationwide LoRa network for IoT applications (see KPN Seeks to Repeat Consumer Turnaround in Enterprise Market). The operator introduced its first LoRa network equipment in 2015 in parts of Amsterdam and Rotterdam, but now offers nationwide connectivity. KPN also said that 1.5 million devices currently use the network infrastructure across the country, while several other proofs of concept are being tested. For example, at Schiphol Airport, LoRa is being tested in logistical processes such as baggage handling and for facility services.
Joost Farwerck, chief operations officer and member of KPN's management board, said "In less than a year KPN has implemented a network that allows us to satisfy this market demand."
As global IoT adoption continues, operators worldwide are working to roll out purpose-built networks, using varying technologies (see Vodafone and Huawei Seek to Build NB-IoT Ecosystem). Some European operators, including Orange, Telefonica and KPN, have pushed ahead in deploying specialist systems such as LoRa to seize an opportunity to establish early leadership in IoT. In contrast, Vodafone and Deutsche Telekom are focussing on the cellular alternative, dubbed NB-IoT and soon to be codified as LTE category M2. Their view is that the reliability, security and guaranteed service quality of a technology standardised by 3GPP, and operating in licensed spectrum, is a better option than using proprietary systems.
SK Telecom's nationwide LTE-M and long-range wide area networks put it in a position to create valuable business opportunities related to IoT; they also add to its already existing strong LTE presence. South Korea's Internet speeds are already among the fastest in the world and with the launch of this network, the company covers 99 percent of the local population in terms of Internet connectivity. With billions of IoT devices expected to go online in the longer term, the new technology will help reduce the burden on existing networks.