Interview: Priming the Pipeline of Opportunity

May 10, 2017

Simon Glassman of module supplier u-blox explains how the company is racing to meet pent-up demand for low power wide area connectivity

 

Simon Glassman, Head of Strategic Partnerships, EMEA, u-blox

simon-website-interviewU-blox, a global supplier of positioning and wireless semiconductors and modules, claimed a world first in June 2016 at Mobile World Congress Shanghai. The Thalwil, Switzerland-based company, announced the “world’s first cellular radio module compliant to the 3GPP Release 13, Narrowband IoT (NB-IoT) standard.”
That announcement reflects u-blox’s eagerness to meet pent-up demand for low power wide area connectivity, as delivered by NB-IoT and its sister technology LTE-M, which has also been standardised by 3GPP in June 2016. These new Mobile Internet of Things (Mobile IoT) technologies are designed to enable applications that require low cost connectivity over wide geographic areas. “We are seeing very significant market demand,” says Simon Glassman, Head of Strategic Partnerships, EMEA at u-blox. “It is quite incredible really to see the pipeline of opportunity. We have a lot of market visibility, having worked on the pre-standard trials for NB-IoT and LTE-M from an early stage.”

Glassman says u-blox is fielding requests for “tens and hundreds” of modules now. It expects those requests to grow to thousands in the first half of 2017 and tens of thousands in the second half. “From H2 onwards, we will really see the numbers start to ramp up, if the networks and the backend systems are in place,” he adds.

U-blox envisions that NB-IoT and LTE-M devices will have a battery life of more than 10 years and five-to-10 years respectively. Initially, u-blox modules will have a form factor of 26mm by 16mm, but Glassman says they will shrink over time. “They could go down to 10 by 10 realistically,” he adds. U-blox says NB-IoT modules will cost less than LTE-M modules, but the latter can deliver higher data rates, voice communications and continuous connectivity when moving between different cells.

Glassman describes NB-IoT, which can support up to 150,000 connections in a single cell, as the logical choice for water metering, gas metering, smart parking, connected street lighting, smart agriculture and other applications requiring a long battery life and minimal intervention after the initial deployment. “These sectors are where we are seeing our NB-IoT pipeline building,” he notes. Although Glassman believes that NB-IoT will also be used for some tracking applications that don’t require cell handovers, he sees LTE-M as well suited to asset tracking. LTE-M is also likely to be deployed in wearable devices, vehicles and smart city applications, he adds.

Prototyping, sampling, producing

Glassman says that u-blox is currently in a “prototyping phase” involving the controlled distribution of limited volumes of NB-IoT and LTE-M modules. It is working closely with equipment vendor Huawei and mobile operators in a number of trials. Glassman expects commercial production to begin in the second quarter of 2017.

Although exact prices will depend on volumes and will likely fall over time, Glassman says modules should be available in the single digit dollar range. “It will be competitive relative to GSM,” he says. “We want both NB-IoT and LTE-M to proliferate and they have to be competitive.”

However, Glassman stresses that u-blox aims to compete on value, rather than price, and that enterprises tend to focus on the total cost of ownership, rather than the hardware costs alone. “The word ‘quality’ is integral to our core,” he says. “We are very much focused on chipsets and modules. We don’t do applications and systems integration. Over time, we build our own chipset and create a product that is really optimized for the target market and underpinned by quality.”

Initially, u-blox plans to roll out four NB-IoT modules, each supporting a different spectrum frequency band, designed to address different markets. Glassman says the company will continue to optimise the cost and form factor of these modules, while also introducing software-defined radio elements that will allow a module to switch between three neighbouring frequency bands.

For LTE-M, u-blox is focused initially on meeting the frequency band requirements of “some large North American carriers” following a broadly similar schedule for prototyping and sampling to that envisioned for NB-IoT. U-blox has already made evaluation kits available for both technologies in limited volumes and plans to make these kits more broadly available to developers as module production volumes ramp up.

Future functionality

One of u-blox’s key differentiators is its expertise in combining location-based technologies, such as GPS, with cellular technologies. Right now, u-blox is focused on meeting customers’ price, form-factor and power consumption requirements, but Glassman says the company will add more functionality to its Mobile IoT modules and chipsets as the market develops. “Going forward, there will be options for fall-back to 2G and to incorporate global navigation satellite system (GNSS) capability,” Glassman says. “We are in a unique position in that respect. We have a lot of experience in getting GNSS and location to work closely with cellular. But as soon as you start integrating other functionality, that has an impact on cost and on the power burden.”

Although u-blox believes low power wide area technologies operating in unlicensed spectrum will continue to play a role, Glassman says that enterprises see the value of using licensed spectrum to enable the Internet of Things. He highlights mobile operators’ ability to prevent interference and guarantee quality of service, while supporting roaming. As they have the backing of a large and global ecosystem, 3GPP-standardised technologies will also have staying power. “Because you are following 3GPP standards processes, these technologies won’t disappear tomorrow,” Glassman notes.

U-blox expects developed markets to lead the adoption of NB-IoT and LTE-M, primarily because these technologies can be overlaid on their existing LTE networks. “The growth of LTE in general is quite phenomenal with lot of markets now having 90% plus coverage,” says Glassman. “Once the more mature markets have adopted these technologies, then they could snowball quite quickly. But many emerging markets are still going through consultation processes to free up spectrum for LTE.”

Although the initial Mobile IoT deployments are likely to focus on the more obvious use cases, such as water metering and smart parking, these new technologies could become platforms for a further wave of innovation, particularly in emerging markets where other forms of infrastructure are lacking. “There will be a whole plethora of use cases that have yet to be defined,” says Glassman. “Once you achieve economies of scale on the supply side that will translate into new opportunities for a long tail of innovative applications.”

Back

Huawei: NB-IoT Ecosystem Partner list This document provides a list of Huawei’s NB-IoT partners, detailing the solutions offered by each organisation. The brochure also contains a list of regions and sectors ...

Read more | See all Resources

Webinar Highlights: Deploying Mobile IoT – Ask the Experts Mobile IoT (licensed spectrum low power wide area) networks are a high-growth area of the IoT and will play an important role in connecting billions of new devices. Low power wid...

Read more | See all Resources

The IoT Opportunity: Mobilising the Internet of Things Representing the mobile industry, the GSMA’s Internet of Things programme is working to accelerate the deployment of new connected solutions. In this short video, discover mor...

Read more | See all Resources

LPWA: Enabling Extreme Wildlife Tracking To protect threatened species, conservationists need to fully understand their behaviour and which habitats are key to their survival. To that end, Vodafone is working with the ...

Read more | See all Resources

The importance of Embedded SIM certification to scale the Internet of Things As a provider of connected devices why should you care about test and certification of Embedded SIM? Because it enables your devices to reach market faster since they do not need...

Read more | See all Resources

Mobile Privacy and Big Data Analytics Big data analytics can have a significant impact on societal aims such as the UN Sustainable Development Goals and has the potential to deliver more effective health outcomes, be...

Read more | See all Resources

Interview: Putting NB-IoT to the Test Cao Ming explains how Huawei’s Shanghai lab is enabling developers to test a wide variety of innovative Internet of Things solutions   Cao Ming, President of FDD Product L...

Read more | See all Industry News

LPWA: Tracking Pallets Across Borders (Use Case) Pallet specialist RM2 and mobile operator AT&T are using the Mobile IoT to streamline international logistics   The global logistics industry has about 15 billion pallet...

Read more | See all Industry News

How to Support the Development of Smart Cities in Asia-Pacific Asia is experiencing exceptionally high rates of urbanisation and population growth. As pointed out by the World Bank Group, the number of people in South Asia’s cities ros...

Read more | See all Industry News

Interview: Oi Brasil Crowdsources Internet of Things Innovation Alberto Boaventura explains how Oi’s new IoT Lab is working with developers, universities and businesses to develop smart solutions and services   Alberto Boaventura, Tech...

Read more | See all Industry News

The IoT Masterclass: Securing the Connected Future By 2025, the world will be composed of 27 billion connected devices.[1] From waste management to water meters, a whole host of new services and devices will share data. This open...

Read more | See all Industry News

Interview: Priming the Pipeline of Opportunity Simon Glassman of module supplier u-blox explains how the company is racing to meet pent-up demand for low power wide area connectivity   Simon Glassman, Head of Strategic P...

Read more | See all Industry News

ETSI Workshop: “Making Smart Cities Sustainable” June 07, 2017 In cooperation with the European Commission and Eurocities, ETSI is pleased to announce the ETSI workshop “Making Smart Cities Sustainable” from large scale pilots ...

Read more | See all Connected Living Events

4th GSMA Global Mobile IoT Summit June 27, 2017 Moving to Global Deployment After seeing more than 40 successful Mobile IoT pilots globally in the last year by a range of mobile operators, the industry is now moving ...

Read more | See all Connected Living Events

Mobile World Congress Shanghai June 28, 2017 The Internet of Things will be central to Mobile World Congress Shanghai  – Asia’s biggest mobile event. Bringing together the global mobile industry’s ...

Read more | See all Connected Living Events

IoT Summit at MWC Shanghai 2017 June 29, 2017 With 27 bn connected devices forecast by 2025, including 6bn in China, mobile technology is playing an increasingly crucial role in the Internet of Things (IoT) –...

Read more | See all Connected Living Events

GSMA Connected Vehicle Summit June 30, 2017 Shanghai New International Expo Centre (SNIEC), W3, Auditorium B   The increasing consumer demand for car connectivity and intelligence has been a key driver of th...

Read more | See all Connected Living Events

Contact GSMA Legal Email Preference Centre Copyright © 2017 GSMA. GSM and the GSM Logo are registered and owned by the GSMA.