O2 will be carrying out UK IoT connectivity trials later this year

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Internet of Things arrives at British telco

Although the telco would not be drawn on specifics, it told The Register it would be trialling “3GPP cellular IoT [Internet of Things] technology” this year.

This is a reference to the two 3GPP working group-endorsed IoT connectivity standards: NB-IoT (Narrowband Internet of Things) and LTE-M. The third major player in this space is LoRaWAN, which, unlike the other two, uses unlicensed spectrum for the transmission and receipt of data.

“We will be performing live trials this year to gain more practical insight into the technology,” an O2 spokesman told us.

Analysys Mason research director Tom Rebbeck, commenting on the announcement, told us: “It’s another sign of Telefónica hedging its bets – a small investment in Sigfox and some announcements, trials of NB-IoT in Chile and Spain, and it was part of the announcement at MWC of operators backing LTE-M. It’s being more cautious than some other big operators like Vodafone, AT&T, DT and Orange.”

O2 did not answer any questions as to the details of the trials or which of the two standards it would be trying out. So far the UK’s IoT connectivity landscape has been restricted to elderly GSM-based M2M tech (built around SIM cards) and various localised deployments of LoRaWAN and its unlicensed spectrum competitor, Sigfox.

Well-placed sources have whispered to The Register that a commercial deployment of either technology is expected in the UK next year, and we understand that the wider industry is making plans for technology deployments based on the assumption that either NB-IoT or LTE-M will be in full operation by then.

NB-IoT is strongly favoured by O2’s fellow UK mobile network operator Vodafone, which has faced problems with rolling it out in Europe. It is also popular in China and the Far East, though LTE-M has been gaining ground in terms of commercial deployments over the last year. LTE-M was thought to have been mostly restricted to the Americas, though test deployments in Europe and further afield have muddied the waters on that description of it. ®

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