Christian Laque, CTO of velcom sees GSMA standardized technology (NB-IoT) to be the right one to be introduced shaping the market and paving the road to the future. In an interview with
in February, Laque highlighted its NB-IoT commercial network, the first in Belarus, and shed light on its NB-IoT applications and business models, and the challenges ahead. Velcom is the leading mobile operator in Belarus and a branch of Telekom Austria Group.
If there was one recent development in your company that you would like to highlight， what would it be?
After the full migration of the radio network to soft defined version and virtualization of the core network, the launch of NB-IoT was a logical step. It is such a highlight because it is an enabler for the bright world of the internet of things. Velcom is again a leader in technology by implementing NB-IoT as a software upgrade of the network nationwide.
The launch of our new state-of-the-art data center is another huge step. The opportunities in ICT are huge and also for the IoT applications the cloud in our data center will play an important role.
What is the present status of LPWA market? What are the key drivers to NB-IoT development?
This market is relatively new for Belarus as there was no dominant LPWA technology. There were experiments that did not turn into something serious. We see GSMA standardized technology to be the right one to be introduced shaping the market and paving the road to the future.
It is a great opportunity to leverage NB-IoT, a worldwide standard, to enter the amazing world of IoT together with partners, developers and of course our customers.
So far we have used 2G, 3G as connectivity for M2M applications. With the steep increase in the number of sensors, these networks were no longer the suitable ones. The new generation of sensors have quite specific needs which do require a proper LPWA.
Key drivers for a global standard instead of proprietary solution are the number of devices to drive the cost down and to create a universal ecosystem.
What is the significance of your NB-IoT commercial deployment? How can NB-IoT help your business grow?
Launching the NB-IoT network was the logical next step for us when we think about the development of our carrier business. Connecting machines is equally important now as connecting people. We see NB-IoT network as the enabler for our partners and us to explore new vertical applications, which have not been possible before. Definitely, it is a key element for our digital strategy.
We are foreseeing our IoT business growth leveraging on the technology advantages like improved signal strength and battery life. In some cases, battery-powered solutions were simply non-existent. Now we have the tool and we can offer to our solution partners to reach the places they could not think reachable before.
What do you think are the success factors of Belarus’ first scaled NB-IoT deployment?
Velcom is well established as the mobile service provider of choice for business customers. With the data center/cloud and NB-IoT we are enlarging our portfolio for the business segment. To be the leader and drive innovation is in our genes.
Belarus has a proven position in application development in the world and a growing community of innovations. The new direction to develop Belarus into an ICT country will also foster the development in IoT.
How do you comment on ZTE's performance during the NB-IoT project?
From the beginning of 2017, velcom and ZTE have combined their forces and built one project team. As a leader, you are facing challenges but together we have been able to solve them all. ZTE has provided its expertise and technical solutions in NB-IoT development. Due to the hard work of the project team, technology deployment was done in a short time frame. This success was based on the common projects in the past years.
What vertical applications are you or will be looking at?
We see utilities sector as one of our key adopters in the first wave. They obviously need NB-IoT based solutions to connect the huge amount of sensors. The focus is on smart city with smart metering solutions including water, power, and gas, and other city utilities.
Another segment that is interested in our solutions is transportation. Whenever a company is looking to monitor goods condition, we are there to find the best solution.
We are collaborating with manufacturing companies. Many of their sensors used to monitor the production cycle conditions have been limited by the connection via wires. We are working on developing technical solution that will help to connect faster and more flexibly much more sensors.
What is your NB-IoT business models to develop new services?
Velcom is offering each customer tailor-made contracts for end-to-end solutions, encompassing sensors, data storage and analytics, as well as the NB-IoT connectivity and data-center services. Velcom is working with local companies from Belarus, Latvia and Lithuania and multinational players, such as Qualcomm, Quectel and ZTE, putting together a tailor-made proposition for each enterprise customer.
We are also working with start-ups in various fields (Med, Logistics to name a few) to get them onboard with the new technology where we see it applicable. We are re-engineering their devices together so they can benefit from NB-IoT.
What are the challenges in the NB-IoT industry at the moment in your view? What needs to be done to ensure its future success?
Number one challenge is the module price. NB-IoT is engineered for mass deployments of cheap devices. The costs must clearly undercut other technologies like 2G or 3G.
Another challenge to be tackled is to foster developer and startup environment around the new technology. Teams we met are already well aware of pros and cons of existing technologies and their ways to use them. We think it should be a common effort of key players to raise the NB-IoT awareness among the developers and startup teams.
5G is gaining momentum. What kinds of activities are you getting involved with in this domain?
We are on track and even have 5G already. I would count NB-IoT as a piece of 5G technology. With the virtualization of the entire core network we have a great base. For network slicing, we have already tested with several use cases successfully. It is only a few steps further to have 5G fully in the core network.
What is your vision for the IoT and 5G sectors?
IoT will become a standard component in everything. It will help to ease processes and our daily life dramatically. Huge opportunities will come up. Of course we have to take care of security.
5G is much more evolution than revolution. The major step is the capability in the core network. The radio is mainly driven by bandwidth demand.
One challenge is to lead the customers to use the new network and free up the existing one faster than any time before. The cycle of developments will get faster and faster, and to keep pace, we have to migrate and close legacy.
velcom, NB-IoT, LPWA, 5G