Bad neighbours? A comparison of LPWA technology options

Screen Shot 2016-05-11 at 10.24.43While the carrier community is celebrating the steady arrival of 3GPP defined cellular IoT that will enable the use of existing GSM networks with minimal impact through upgrades, there remains significant interest in alternative solutions in the unlicensed space.

Some of this interest comes from service providers who lack access to licensed spectrum, but the majority is being driven by use cases where the long range, extended battery life, and very low cost of Low Power Wide Area (LPWA) wireless technologies is a fundamental necessity. What is emerging though is a fragmented area of largely proprietary solutions, making it difficult for users to decide on which option best suits their particular use case.

The key approaches to unlicensed M2M connectivity can be split in to two groups: UltraNarrowBand (UNB) technologies; and those that employ some form of spread spectrum modulation (SSM).

Growth forecasts for the M2M market underline the need for these LPWA systems to be able to co-exist in license exempt spectrum and that any LPWA solution should be able to support  many connected devices – and this requirement is only going to become more important over time as the number of devices increases.

Real Wireless recently carried out a study that compared the levels of interference between networks using these two different physical layer architectures. This required us to model a scenario in which a UNB and a SSM network had overlapping coverage areas and various other sources of interference, including non-LPWA users, in order to study the ability of both technologies to mitigate interference.

This insight gained was that UNB and spread spectrum modulation networks can only effectively co-exist in very low capacity deployments. Shared channel operation, either between a SSM and a UNB network, or two SSM networks, would result in mutual interference and uplink blocking of both networks, except in cases of very low simultaneous user numbers.

In other words, the reality is that a SSM LPWA network architecture should be considered a ‘bad neighbour’, and multiple unlicensed IoT networks can only effectively share access to spectrum when they all also share a UNB architecture. However, given the number of use cases for these technologies, they will undoubtedly coexist in one location. As a result, this study has significant implications for technology choices in this important growth market.

To find out more about our study and approach to modelling of unlicensed IoT solutions, download our new white paper today.

Why 2016 is crucial to the development of 5G and IoT — an expert briefing

RW-Manifesto-2016_coverAs we approach another Mobile World Congress (MWC), the noise is again ramping up around 5G and the Internet of Things (IoT). Many years in development, and seemingly filling newspaper column inches everywhere for just as long, it’s becoming increasingly hard for many to follow their progress.

Despite the noise, the world is still a long way off a public 5G network, and the delivery of the technology’s full economic value not expected until around 2025. This long timescale is because 5G will be unlike any other mobile standard to date — there’s incredible potential for the technology to revolutionise different verticals like automotive, healthcare and utilities.

But, whilst the mobile industry needs to lead these discussions, it’s the responsibility of all who wish to benefit to collaborate and ensure the technology works to everyone’s advantage.

As a result, getting the foundations of technology and negotiations right during 2016 is crucial to making sure the end standard reaches its full potential.

Conversely, machine-to-machine (M2M) communications has existed for more than a decade, yet the consumer facing version — IoT — is still struggling to get traction. This is the result of an industry littered with multiple competing standards, no harmonisation on spectrum, and no singular roadmap for development to maximise scale economies.

So 2016 is a genuine make-or-break year for the technology; if the industry gets it right, we could see a truly universal, robust standard start to take off. If it gets it wrong, we will be left with fragmentation and clear barriers to the IoT’s future potential.

Real Wireless has been working at the forefront of both of these technology areas, across the technological, social, and economic aspects of their development, providing independent research and analysis.

This includes our work with the European Commission, research as part of 5G NORMA, and membership of the UK’s 5GIC, where we are working to understand the socioeconomic impact of 5G and how the wireless industry should engage with other vertical industries in its development.

To this end, Real Wireless today launches a short primer outlining exactly what needs to happen in 2016 for 5G and the IoT to be able to reach their full potential. This concise, comprehensible piece distils the knowledge of our many experts in to three pages, providing an essential briefing for anyone interested in the telecoms industry in 2016.

Download our summary to cut through the industry noise and find out why 2016 is a milestone year for 5G and IoT — and how the industry can make sure it gets it right.

We’re also at Mobile World Congress (MWC Barcelona, 22–25 February) next week, so please get in touch if you would like to speak with one of our experts about either of these issues in more detail.

Key considerations in the development of 5G

I recently gave a talk at a Westminster eForum event, discussing the challenges that 5G development faces.

This was part of a wider discussion about the future of networks, devices and 5G, with speakers from YouGov, Vodafone, Qualcomm and Analysys Mason participating in the conversation. Together we left no stone unturned, examining the latest trends, regulatory perspectives, what 5G will actually look like — and much more.

One clear point that came out of the talks was that, despite recent statements to the contrary, there remains a lot still be decided about 5G. As a result, it’s important we look carefully at who will be using the 5G standard and what implications that may have, not just the technology side of the equation.

5G — enabling new applications
5G isn’t just about doing things faster; it will be the first generation to explicitly target the needs of multiple vertical industries. The graph below is designed to illustrate the challenge at hand. The grey area denotes the applications whose needs LTE cannot currently meet, and these are where 5G could demonstrate real added value over LTE.

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Addressing the Internet of Things and multimedia
One of the key conflicts that embodies the challenge of 5G is between the demands being placed on it by the Internet of Things and multimedia applications.

These each have a vastly different set of requirements, with IoT emphasising low power and reliability, and multimedia content a need for high capacity and data rates.

The diagram below demonstrates the different factors that need careful consideration where 5G is concerned, and how the two applications differ:

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Rather than rushing out the next generation of cellular technology to meet arbitrary deadlines, time needs to be spent now thinking about how 5G can serve the wider societal and industrial needs — not just smartphones and tablets. Much thought also needs to go into the compact between investment and competition, the answers to which could come from network architecture.

At the same time, we need to avoid the real risk of overhyping 5G in the next few years, creating a much larger headache for the industry later on. For the time being, users are only just starting to come to terms with 4G, therefore we need to ensure we take the time to consider the next generation — squeezing out the maximum value we can out of the current generation in the meantime.

For more information on the considerations for 5G, take a look at the slides I presented in full here:

For more information on Real Wireless’s work in 5G, read our recent blog post.