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  • NTT DoCoMo will discontinue its NB-IoT network – 11 months after launch.
  • The Japanese operator will continue to serve the market with the existing LTE-M service for IoT
  • This might not be about the strength of NB-IoT, but the rationale for a telco to keep multiple IoT networks running.

We are witnessing a fundamental review and restructuring of internet business models

Is the announcement from NTT DoCoMo to stop its NB-IOT network on March 31st the sign of things to come? Maybe it is too early to read a winner among the different tech-soup based around IoT, but it might just right to point out at a bit of IoT technology choices fatigue. It is fair to say that choice is good, but too many network choices tend to slow decision making and increase the cost of devices.

An 11 month old network – why shut down a ‘baby’ network?

NTT had turned the network on recently, only in April 2019 – it will continue to support its existing LTE-M flavour of low power network for connecting things and machines. The news is surprising: getting to turn a network on for only 11 months is very atypical in the long-term focus telecom world. It is not the role of MEF to comment on the different technology solutions available for IoT. In fact, it would still be difficult to point at a possible winner.

Technology choices – too complicated, too many?

NB-IoT still looks like a strong contender: the spectrum efficiency and its nature of a software upgrade to 4G networks are still good cards to play. However, similarly good things could be said for LTE-M (the direct 4G evolution choice) with potentially batter mobility options (good for tracking).

On paper NB-IoT does offer battery savings for devices (hence longer life), possibly better in-building coverage. However, in reality, network implementation/optimisation has proven trickier than hoped for some operators.

B-IoT did make telecom network roadmaps looking better in comparison to the non telco options LoRa, Sigfox and Helium – but it did so by complicating choices and operations even further. In the industry, consulting and solution providers are still enjoying the fragmentation of solutions – but to scale IoT to the next level clearer options might help.

5G will take care of NB-IoT (and its business case)

The unusual decision from NTT DoCoMo, can be better explained, by its interest in fast development of a 5G network. 5G should also be able to deal with the large number of devices connective, and NB-IoT is expected to be included in the future release of 5G. Postponing deployment as a second phase of 5G would be a simpler way to streamline the telco roadmap: rolling out 4G/LTE-M and then the combination 5G-NB-IoT.

As MEF has often commented, the role of telecom operator is to make communication network more efficient in today’s financial environment. The IoT ARPU is now running at a hypothetical value of 1 dollar per device per year – running duplicate IoT networks does not seem to fit with this potential business case. We hear, that the NTT DoCoMo choice was ultimately, a low utilisation rate – the IoT demand spread over two networks did not generate enough business. Our members can confirm that demand is growing, but a sensible roll out approach is probably welcome too.

Please share your view and comments on IoT solution with the MEF community. What is your experience with Low Power Wider Area Networks? Share in the comments below or by email.

Dario Betti