Let the debate rage on! What is the best way to use valuable, highly regulated, expensive-to-procure radio spectrum to deliver the quality of service and network optimization required for reliable, secure and high-speed/high-performance M2M connectivity?
With the recently announced shuttering of AT&T’s 2G network by 2017, the debate continues to rage. What are the best options to optimize valuable spectrum for M2M? Does M2M need its own network?
Perhaps – perhaps not. Let’s look at some options that have been put forward by various experts and industry thought leaders. BTW, the intent of this article is not to evangelize or argue that one approach is better than the other, but to list the options available and seek new ones. All options included in this article have pros and cons that individuals and organizations have to weigh and decide for themselves.
Option 1: You can’t fight progress – make the appropriate investment in device upgrades and network equipment to support 3G, 4G and subsequent spectrum re-grooming.
Option 2: Carve out a small and finite (meaning limited) range of spectrum to dedicated exclusively to M2M and allow 2G devices to continue operating in this specifically dedicated spectrum range. For this to happen, AT&T would have to only allow M2M devices, identified by their IMEI – to connect via 2G, thus making grandma’s 12-year-old flip phone obsolete and blocking consumer voice traffic that it no longer wants to support.
Option 3: Build out a new, alternate network dedicated to M2M on its own frequency. Case in point a French startup named Sigfox is proposing to do just this.
Option 4: Find “new” or unused spectrum – somehow, some way – that can be dedicated to M2M connectivity without interfering with other technology avoiding the perils encountered, for example, with LightSquared’s interference with GPS signals.
The first two options are pretty self-evident and thus far there has been no movement at all towards Option 2, which is understandable from the context of the operational costs associated with maintaining even a small portion of the 2G network. In addition, arguments continue to rage on about the lack of available spectrum, even with the sun setting and re-grooming of the 2G network.
So that leaves us with Options 3 and 4 to consider, assuming nobody is quite ready (yet) to capitulate on Option 1 (3G/4G upgrade) as inevitable.
Option 3 (building a new network dedicated to M2M) is interesting because it assumes that M2M devices will proliferate but will continue to resist the temptation of Big Data – meaning the amount of data payloads streaming from these devices/applications will remain relatively small and thus performance isn’t going to be a major concern. Our position has been that Big Data is a misnomer and these applications and devices will be reporting on exceptions rather than issuing large streams of data. However, SigFox’s bet on using unlicensed frequencies commonly used for baby monitors and cordless phones (868 MHz in Europe and 915 MHz in the US); that have devices with low power consumption; powered by many fewer tower sites than needed for today’s cellular services; beg us to feel extremely confident in our anti-Big Data prediction. For instance, this narrow-band technology supports 100 bits per second – bits – not kilobits – meaning it is 15 to 50 times SLOWER than 2G speeds today. I am not saying this couldn’t be an alternative to select applications and use-cases, but I have a hard time believing this performance limitation provides a sustainable alternative for M2M connectivity in the long term.
That brings us to Option 4 – finding new or unused spectrum. One idea that has gained traction recently is the use of “White Spaces” that are unused bands of spectrum separating commercially owned and used frequencies in order to avoid interference. Conceptually, certain frequencies of white spaces could be deployed for M2M connectivity without causing interference with the primary use of that band of spectrum – something which needs to be tested and verified.
A company called Ofcom recently announced the intention to use white spaces in TV broadcasting frequencies in the UK to do just that. Could it work? Conceivably. What would have to happen to allow this option? Likely both the owners and the in-country regulatory bodies would both have to sign off on it; with the owners receiving some financial consideration for licensing that portion of their spectrum. Could that happen? Perhaps – but what are the chances that the owners would agree to risk possible interference in their main line of business without considerable testing and assurances that this won’t happen?
The bottom-line is that there are still some uncertainties about the future network connectivity options of M2M applications and devices. However, the good news is that there are multiple options and each offers its own unique set of benefits and risks. The demands of new and existing M2M applications will surely drive the evolutions of these network connectivity options…just as they have since the inception of the market.
By Stein Soelberg, Director of Marketing
Follow Stein on Twitter: @sesoelberg
Stein leads a team whose responsibility is to own the branding, advertising, customer engagement, loyalty, partnership and public relations initiatives designed to propel KORE into the 21st century. With over 15 years of technology marketing experience in the business to business software, Internet services and telecommunications industries, Stein brings a proven track record of launching successful MVNOs and building those brands into leaders.