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M1 debuts NB-IoT network in Singapore, Singtel to follow suit

The battle among telcos and other low-power wide area network operators for a slice of the IoT pie in Singapore has just begun

Singapore telco M1 has fired the first salvo by being the first in the city-state to roll out an internet of things (IoT) network based on narrowband IoT (NB-IoT), a connectivity standard backed by telcos and the GSM Association.

In a statement on 7 August 2017, M1 said its network is the first of its kind in Southeast Asia and the second one in the world. It is also collaborating with Singapore power retailer Keppel Electric to test an NB-IoT-based energy management meter that will enable businesses and consumers to track their energy consumption.

Janice Bong, general manager of Keppel Electric, said M1’s NB-IoT network is a timely development for its customers who will get easy access to real-time consumption data at a lower cost. “We also see the potential of such implementations in helping consumers manage their electricity use more prudently,” she said.

Besides energy management, M1 is also working with partners to develop IoT applications such as flood monitoring, fleet management, waste management and even smart toilets that use sensors to monitor odour levels and alert cleaners when toilets need to be cleaned.

Tan Kiat How, CEO of Singapore’s Infocomm Media Development Authority, said IoT is a key technology that will drive Singapore’s digital economy.

“We are heartened that M1 has rolled out their narrowband IoT network on a nationwide basis and partnered enterprises to bring ready solutions to market and accelerate innovation to empower possibilities,” he said.

Meanwhile, Singtel, Southeast Asia’s largest telco, said it will be launching its NB-IoT network in September 2017, following earlier efforts to explore the use of IoT among Singapore companies and large enterprises.

Singtel said its network will let businesses make voice-over-LTE calls in future using small portable devices such as wearables and trackers with voice capability.

Irza Suprapto, director at Asia IoT Business Platform, said the launch of NB-IoT networks in Singapore will increase IoT awareness and adoption. “Both telcos will spend resources to market the availability of these networks to build an ecosystem which can be delivered to the user,” he said.

Read more about IoT in APAC

NB-IoT is one of the three emerging IoT connectivity technologies in the low-power wide area network (LP-WAN) space that are being used to connect up IoT devices.

In February 2017, Unabiz, which operates the competing Sigfox network, launched Singapore’s first nationwide IoT network that covers 95% of outdoor areas in the city-state. In India, HPE and Tata Communications are rolling out the world’s biggest IoT network using Lora, another LP-WAN technology.

“Lora and Sigfox are essentially run by start-up companies – albeit well-funded ones,” Irza told Computer Weekly, noting that “marketing efforts by the telcos, along with Huawei and Nokia, will undoubtedly increase awareness of these competing technologies”.

“What remains to be seen is the ability of the telcos, Sigfox and the Lora Alliance to monetise such networks. It’s a volume game for this business segment, and I'll be interested to see how quickly each participant is able to ramp up the number of connections on their networks.”

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