Huawei plans to mirror global NB-IOT implementation in Africa

Multinational ICT firm Huawei has confirmed its intention to help replicate the recent implementation of the first operational NB-IOT electrical energy smart meter in Lisbon, Portugal, in Africa – beginning with South Africa.

The smart meter was developed by Huawei in partnership with JANZ CE and u-blox, and the implementation was part of a pilot project linked to an UPGRID initiative under the European Commission's Horizon 2020 program.

The solution combines emerging technologies with the smart metering of electrical energy and with the latest generation networks to oversee the electricity network.

NOS installed the infrastructure network using NB-IOT technology, based on Huawei's technology, and thus became the first operator in Portugal to have tested the 4.5G-IOT technology on its network infrastructure.

Now, according to Huawei IOT expert David Hoelscher, the company plans to spearhead a similar implementation in South Africa, specifically looking at utility-based service delivery and application including electricity/ power supply and water usage.

Hoelscher explained why the replication in South Africa is expected to be a seamless process. "Narrow-band IOT is standardised through 3GPP, which is part of the global standards-generation body GSMA, which means that any global technology company can come in and make products that meet that standardisation. That is really good because that allows the global industrialisation to push the prices down, competition is definitely our friend in this case."

And this cost reduction is filtering through the supply chain, according to Hoelscher, evident in the increased manufacture of relevant chipset technology, which are encapsulated in modules for easier implementation, by vendors like Qualcomm and Intel, and their respective module partners to fuel the global industrialisation he explained.

Hoelscher says in terms of uptake, NB-IOT is faster than any other release of 3GPP standardisation.

Huawei is also working on partnering with tier one service providers focused on electrical metering or the next level of the ecosystem.

Hoelscher comments on the pace of development of NB-IOT, adding that the technology has come a long way in a very short space of time, given the fact that it was standardised in what was called release 13 GBPP in July last year. "In a year, we've gone from writing a standard and everyone signing up to having chipsets, modules and terminals and now deploying networks. So this is really fast industrial pace and it's not just one company controlling the whole thing."

Huawei says this Low Power Wide Area (LPWA) wireless access technology has several advantages including a gain of 20db over conventional GSM networks and the ability to support over 100, 000 connections per cell. This means more powerful connectivity and extensive reach, with the capacity to accommodate more linked devices.

"NB-IOT thus represents a disruptive step on the path towards Gigabit Society and will evolve over the next few years to 5G (in the field of massive Machine Type Communications) that will support up to 1 000,000 connections per cell," the company has stated.

As Hoelscher explains, with NB-IOT the link budget goes further and deeper, which are key to integration and connectivity of systems, which then translates into the relevant networks and capacities for smart cities.

Working for carriers

Hoelscher points out that carriers can take their existing base stations without deploying new ones and reuse that for NB-IOT, separate coverage/ connectivity for humans and that for machines.

In fact from a networking point of view, this particular ecosystem is also enriched through NB-IOT because the technology can facilitate different equipment from different vendors, as a result of the GBPP standardisation.

Regions are separated by the availability of spectrum and according to Hoelscher, NB-IOT enables a smoother network migration. "NB-IOT is really designed with the carrier in mind. The idea is that you can take a 200khz thin slice of spectrum and turn off your GPRS on that spectrum and turn on NB-IOT and so you can kind of gracefully migrate your users from GPRS or GSM into LTE, your human users, because LTE is going to be better and then start to migrate your current GSM network into NB-IOT. You can do that slice by slice, and so, as a carrier, you can kind of control this migration from 2G to 4G for humans, and then another migration, of human use to machine use for the current GSM spectrum."

From an Africa point of view, all networks being deployed are natively upgradable to 5G technology when this becomes available.

Huawei is currently in negotiation with prospective NB-IOT partners and service providers in Africa.

"In terms of applications, I really see huge opportunity for water metering, for electrical metering and things like geysers and the insurance industry," Hoelscher adds.