Interview with Adam Armer, IoT Global Business Development & Innovation Manager, Vodafone

Tell me about your role at Vodafone...

I work in Vodafone Group IoT and am globally responsible for LPWAN and satellite propositions & sales. I sit in the middle ground between our technology, product and sales organisations; establishing the business case for these new solutions, ensuring we deliver a customer centric product, working with the Vodafone markets to deploy the networks and ultimately getting our customers knowledgeable and ready to use it.

Can you explain why Vodafone chose to deploy NB-IoT over other LPWAN variations?

When we first established a need for LPWAN within our IoT services, we went to market and had a look at everything that was available, benchmarking it against our current IoT services. Having done this we decided that non-propriety solutions were lacking in certain areas or were unsuitable for our customer needs; For example, propriety networks require significant time and investment to build, rather than being a simple upgrade of our existing services, this affects our ability to go to market quickly and provide the wide area coverage expected by our customers. They are also less secure, lacking many of the foundational security elements needed in IoT at device, network and gateway layers. And finally, the use of unlicensed spectrum comes with some significant drawbacks; including a lack of traffic management, a lack of SLAs, restricted or no bi-directionality and of course, is subject to Duty Cycle Regulation. All of this has a negative effect on long term enterprise deployments and would restrict the ability to get a return on investment. The future of IoT is not thousands of devices but billions of connected things and these unlicensed bands are not able to support it.

So, with all this in mind we found that we couldn’t achieve what we wanted with unlicensed technologies. We worked with all of the chipset companies, the RAN companies and the 3GPP standards body to come up with licensed band standards and we ended up with 3: NB-IoT, LTE-M and EC-GSM-IoT.

Vodafone are not backing ECGSM-IoT because it is 2G based, which leaves us with NB-IoT and LTE-M, which we think of as cousin technologies. That is, they are appropriate for different use cases depending on the required data rate, bandwidth or coverage. We have identified both of these technologies within our 4G evolution and are progressing with them as 5G standards.

Can you tell me a little about the status of NB-IoT at Vodafone at the moment?

We’ve come along in leaps and bounds since ratifying a year and a half ago. We have launched 9 networks now which is the fastest network rollout in Vodafone’s history. We started here in Spain with 6 key cities and now have 80% of the population covered. We also have national coverage in Ireland, The Netherlands and the Czech Republic and a number of regions covered in Germany, Turkey, Italy, Australia & South Africa. We aspire to have all 26 of our markets covered by 2020, and this looks achievable right now.

What do you hope this network will be used for and which verticals are you targeting?

I hope to see utilities embrace the technology so we can get a more accurate view of how our electrical, gas and water companies are working. I would also like to see it come into our homes; there is a lot of space within this area for smart thermostats, burglar alarms and cameras. Honestly, I hope to see the network changing all areas of our everyday lives!

Were there any challenges which you faced during deployment? How did you overcome these?

There are challenges with any maturing technology.. We are at the very edge of it and facing a high demand from customers, the pressure to support all elements of value chain in building NB-IOT is enormous and we want to get it right first time. If you think about how 4G was delivered, the technology was 100% researched and built and the chipsets were ready before the first consumers were added.  However, this was over the period of 3-4 years and we are trying to do the same thing over a period of 6 to 12 months. The challenge has been getting our network built out and getting the tech companies mature enough to work with us. Customers come to us every day with new applications and demands and we are focused on delivering the right connectivity for the right use case.