By Mike Mulica, CEO, Actility

In the past year, we’ve seen an unprecedented roll out of nationwide IoT networks.

At the start of 2016 none existed, and now there are as many as 30 under way.

But what’s driving this? What use cases are these networks designed to address? Where is the RoI coming from?

As the roll out of these networks – in the Netherlands, Belgium, South Korea and Taiwan, for example – illustrates, we’ve reached a tipping point in the deployment of the IoT.

We will start to see ambitious national-scale infrastructure projects roll out in countries around the world with the goal of increasing industrial efficiency, supporting sustainability and ultimately improving the life of the public.

While connected consumer devices, such as cars, hairbrushes and fridges have received the lion’s share of visibility for the IoT to date, its true value lies in its ability to bring about a paradigm shift in industry and society through remote monitoring and management.

Energy savings, increased efficiencies across businesses and industry, and making society safer and more sustainable will be where the real, long-term value in the IoT will be delivered.

These benefits can all be realised across multiple domains by deploying nationwide IoT communication networks, creating a compelling business case for investment.

Global momentum for national networks for IoT devices is driven by newly developed technologies that can provide the required connectivity. 

In July 2016, KPN deployed the world’s first nationwide Low Power Wide Area (LPWA) network for the IoT based on LoRaWAN™.

The following month, Asia Pacific Telecom (APT) announced its commitment to develop a “Smart Life” IoT connectivity platform - a mix of LoRaWAN and cellular technology – to transform Taiwan into a pioneering smart island.

Similarly, in Japan, Softbank has announced a nationwide LoRaWAN IoT network.

These networks are the trigger for explosive growth in IoT deployments and test cases in those countries.

Thanks to their radio technology, which offers long range, indoor coverage and low power requirements, LPWA networks deliver the essential IoT capabilities of connectivity across wildly varied environments, from farms to cities, anywhere in the world, over long distances, constantly, reliably, at low cost, for a long, long time.

The technology is thus perfectly suited for large national networks, which must address the needs of a variety of target markets which may have very different use case requirements, but which share the common need to connect sensors cost-effectively over long distances, in both built-up areas and the countryside.

Within LPWA, there are several different standards that can underpin networks, including LoRaWAN™, UNB, NB-IoT and RPMA.

These can sometimes also work together; LoRa, for example, is complementary to NB-IoT technology, while still retaining a significant cost advantage.

As a result, operators are able to add LPWA to their networks right away, while future-proofing them should they want to add NB-IoT at a later date. 

However, there are also a number of key differentiators.

Some standards are tailored to unlicensed spectrum, providing a key benefit for enterprises looking to create their own radio networks while ensuring data is kept securely within their network.

What nationwide networks have in common is their ability to address a diverse range of applications.

For example, in the Netherlands, KPN’s network is powering a range benefits for citizens, such as improved street signage, better waste management and smart street lighting.

Softbank’s network in Japan will enable services ranging from tracking elderly family members to automated water metering and automated cut-off of domestic gas supplies in case of an earthquake.

In South Korea, SK Telecom has launched a network that covers a massive 99 percent of the population and is enabling a wide range of use cases, including monitoring services capable of controlling and managing manufacturing/public/commercial facilities.

In Taiwan, APT is rolling out a pioneering dual-technology network, using the LoRaWAN communications protocol in combination with its own 4G LTE network.

As a result, the platform will enable a comprehensive smart ecosystem, with both smart city and tracking service capabilities, to track vehicles, goods and pets, sending instant location data and providing geo-fenced alerts.

As well as complementing cellular services, LPWA is disrupting the market by providing a compelling business case that is encouraging non-communications service providers to enter the IoT network space.

In Germany, E.ON subsidiary Digimondo is building a utilities-focused LPWA network that will also be open for use to outside enterprises.

Applications include tracking public transportation, smart metering and measuring air pollution.

Finnish broadcaster Digita has also just launched its LPWA network; leveraging its existing radio and television masts to become a player in the IoT space. Applications include smart agriculture, smart cities and logistics.

In 2017 we’re likely to see more of these insurgent national IoT networks emerge, as businesses wake up to the realisation that by providing connectivity services alongside their own offerings, they can improve their own services, create innovative new revenue streams and increase the availability of nationwide IoT infrastructure.

While industrial IoT applications may not be glamourous, they herald a steady and ever- growing increase in solutions, use cases and reasons to deploy nationwide networks.

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