LPWA World - 22-23 May 2018, Novotel London West

Executive interview: Adam Armer, Vodafone

Adam Armer Vodafone LPWA World

Find out more about Adam and all the LPWA World speakers here.

 

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.

 

Is there anything in particular you guys are doing to build the ecosystem and drive customer adoption?

We have established our Open Labs across our different markets - 5 exist today, and more due to come. Within these, companies come in and with only the cost of their own time, they can test their modules, concepts, devices and play with developer boards; the network is there for them to use and they have lab technicians on hand to help them out. NB-IoT is significantly different to other cellular technologies and there are many considerations to take into place at a device, network and application layer so it’s been critical to provide this support service. Additionally, we have run events in Ireland, Spain and the Netherlands where we have actively connected our customers, shared solution experience and introduced appropriate developer support.

 

How do you envisage LPWAN fitting in with your other technologies?

Vodafone is known for 2G, 4G and fixed line but Vodafone IoT identified that this doesn’t serve all customer’s needs. We are using every technology out there in order to deliver for our customers and if it means that we have to go out and innovate and create a new technology, like we have with NB-IoT, then we will do it. In terms of how it works with our customer proposition today; it’s been built to seamlessly fit on our Global IoT platform as simply another connectivity bearer. Our customers will be able to adopt it into their connectivity portfolio and manage it just like 2G, 4G and Satellite services. In fact, due to additions of device management and device metrics with our NB-IoT, customers will have an even richer content of services available to use across these connectivity services.

 

What are you most looking forward to about LPWA World?

I’m looking forward to the opportunity to engage with customers that may attend and especially any hardware companies. I would like to interact with as many of them as possible in order to understand their questions, help them test the technology and get them building customer centric solutions. It’s been a longer road for the UK in terms of getting NB-IoT established but there is a lot of hype in the market and so I’m sure there will be lots of questions and challenges. I am keen to answer them and get a list of trial candidates for the service.

 

 

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