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Vodacom has commenced its Narrowband Internet of Things (NB-IoT) network build, which it plans to commercially launch in major metropolitan areas across South Africa in 2017. Vodacom has already begun the process of upgrading the various components of its network to support NB-IoT.

NB-IoT is a Low Power Wide Area (LPWA) network technology which enables new use cases for IoT solutions. LPWA networks are able to communicate to devices where radio penetration has traditionally not been feasible and with a low power overhead in the communications process. A key characteristic of LPWA devices is power efficiency, resulting in devices being deployed in-field with batteries which could last up to many years. NB-IoT networks run on existing licensed spectrum, ensuring integrity of the communications channel as well as the delivery of data from the device to the end point.

Future solutions

Vodacom Business Chief Officer Vuyani Jarana says: ‘In investing in its network for NB-IoT, Vodacom will enable South Africans to participate in developing new solution sets for the Internet of Things. We look forward to working with the broader IoT industry to nurture an ecosystem of developers, engineers and entrepreneurs for NB-IoT applications. This will push the boundaries of what is possible as well as bring services to the market that will genuinely transform lives and businesses in South Africa for the better.’ New services enabled by NB-IoT will include the next wave of connected things - from water metres and environmental monitoring devices to smoke detector alarms. The possibilities are limitless.

Vodacom’s NB-IoT network will leverage off its existing established network infrastructure, ensuring excellent coverage and reliable connectivity. A large portion of the network will only require a software upgrade to support the technology, which means that deploying NB-IoT across Vodacom’s existing base stations will be a relatively quick roll-out driven by geographic deployment and based on demand.

Jarana says: 'This is ultimately about taking the Internet of Things to the next level as a disruptor to further economic development and social empowerment through digital connectivity. NB-IoT will deliver more effective commercial value propositions, reducing the barrier to entry for IoT solutions. Our view is that the combination of the NB-IoT network and ‘things’ becoming more affordable, will significantly transform value chains for goods and services. This will in turn support economic growth and social improvement initiatives in the local economy.'

Possibilities in cloud technology

NB-IoT opens up new possibilities for Cloud technology as increasing volumes of data are extracted from the field, requiring additional process and storage capacity. Jarana says: ‘This reaffirms the link between IoT and Cloud to deliver transformational business and socio-economic outcomes. What NB-IoT means for economic growth in our country is incredibly exciting and we are going to see the digitisation of brand new ecosystems and value chains. Smart cities will no longer be a concept, but a reality when you combine the traditional Vodacom mobile and fixed line IoT connectivity stack, with the new NB-IoT offering.  The economics for connecting millions of things in a city becomes viable with this new access technology.’

In September, Vodafone Spain and Huawei announced the successful completion of the first over-the-air connection on a live network using NB-IoT. 

Vodacom will be showcasing its NB-IoT network and application capabilities through a live demonstration at AfricaCom from 15 -16 November.

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