Like smartphones, IoT communications going long distance

SK Telecom's now offering smartphone-like IoT data plans on its new nationwide wireless network in South Korea

The world's newest mobile telecoms network went into operation this week, but it's not for smartphones. The network, built by South Korea's SK Telecom, is dedicated to gadgets that connect to the so-called internet of things.

Today, most of those devices communicate over Bluetooth or WiFi, which are low power but short range, or over conventional cellular, which has better coverage but is more expensive and consumes more power.

The Low Power Wide Area Network (LPWAN) network built in South Korea is deployed over the unlicensed 900MHz spectrum, and is based on specifications from the LoRa Alliance.

SK Telecom has set up an IoT data plan much like smartphone contracts. The cheapest plan is priced at 350 Korean Won (US$0.30) for 100KB of data transfers, and it is targeted at metering and monitoring services. The most expensive plan is targeted at real-time monitoring, and is priced at 2,000 Korean Won (US$1.75) for 100MB of data.  

The LoRa specification is a proprietary topology and its biggest competitor is SigFox, a service provider that uses unlicensed spectrum for IoT connectivity. SigFox operates its own network in France, Germany and the U.S., and has partners 19 other countries. On Tuesday, IotNet announced it had deployed a SigFox network in Mexico.

Long-distance IoT communication is also being set up over licensed spectrum on cellular networks. IoT communications are happening over 2G and 3G networks, but will also be possible over LTE bands with new specifications in the upcoming Release 13 of the 3GPP LTE standard.

AT&T is planning to deploy a LTE Cat-M1 network, which it says could be used for utility meters and wearables. It plans to trial that network later this year, and deploy it next year. The network is expected to offer data transfers up to 1.4Mbps.

Verizon is working with chipset company Sequans to develop chipsets for IoT network products based on the upcoming 3GPP LTE specifications, which is expected to be completed by year end. The specifications will also include a narrow-bandwidth LTE-M standard for data transfers of around 150Kbps (bits per second), which will be mainly for battery operated devices.

SK Telecom said it deployed its LTE-M network in March.

These standards are viewed as a precursor to 5G networks, which are expected to go live in 2020. 5G networks will blur the lines between the different types of wireless communication, and could lead to new types of IoT and smart home devices where prioritization and security is key, Intel has said.

Qualcomm and Intel are developing chipsets for use with the LTE-based IoT networks.

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