Standalone private NB-IoT network debuts in Florida, in sliver of 700 MHz spectrum
The world’s first standalone private NB-IoT network has been launched in Florida, using upper 700 MHz A-Block spectrum and covering major urban centres in northern Florida initially.
The operator, San Francisco-based startup Puloli, is targeting utilities and other critical infrastructure industries with a network-as-a-service model, which will see it manage the network on behalf of users.
Puloli claims a distance of up to 25 miles of NB-IoT coverage from tower sites. Its low-power wide-area (LPWA) coverage, which went live last month (June), makes its standalone NB-IoT deployment “one of the most capital efficient” ways for utilities to connect indsutrial assets, run process analytics, and drive digital change.
The move is significant because every NB-IoT network launched by the operator community so far has been deployed using the LTE guard band, designed as a buffer between strips of spectrum carrying mobile broadband services. These public NB-IoT networks as non-standalone.
The justification from the operator set is that their cellular IoT networks will be ringfenced from spectrum refarming by using the guard band, but commentators note the move, to have LPWA channels at such close quarters, also undermines network performance – making it closer, in practice, to an unlicensed LoRaWAN setup.
Puloli’s standalone NB-IoT network should afford better performance.
The Upper 700 MHz A Block is a 1 MHz paired (2 MHz total, split evenly between the downlink and uplin channels) block of spectrum, licensed by the FCC in the US. NB-IoT is suited to its paired structure, noted Puloli, which developed a custom channelisation and band plan for the deployment.
It is understood the firm retains only a minor 1 MHz spectrum holding, making NB-IoT the only technology it could launch.
Licenses for the Upper 700 MHz A Block have been purchased by a total of 21 critical infrastructure organisations including electric, gas and water utilities; oil & gas companies; and train operators.
Select Spectrum, working as a consultancy to buyers and sellers of spectrum rights, initiated the project with Puloli based on strong demand for private LTE IoT networks by utilities and other critical infrastructure industries, it said.
Robert Finch, president at Select Spectrum, said: “Existing 700 MHz radio suppliers provide a wide range of high-quality and high-throughput solutions for critical infrastructure. We also saw a need for the long-range, low-power, long battery-life, and low-cost remotes available through the cellular industry’s 3GPP LTE NB IoT standard, and we are very pleased with the results of Puloli’s development.”
Kethees Ketheesan, chief executive at Puloli, said: “Puloli’s software-defined solution combined with our deep domain expertise in NB-IoT enabled us to do a rapid development, network design, and deployment in a very short order. Our solution is a full turn-key end-to-end solution. Our customers do not have to go to another entity for system integration. Puloli takes care of all aspects of the service fromr emote units to network to service activation.”
Puloli is deploying ‘remote units’ – base stations, gateways, and devices – based on technology from chip-maker Sequans and modue maker Pycom. Its units have been certified by the FCC.
Puloli has customised its band plan with Pycom’s GPy module, which uses a Monarch chip from Sequans, and is the only IoT development platform that combines LTE-M and NB-IoT connectivity with MicroPython in one device.
Robert Finch, president of Select Spectrum, said: “The 20 utilities and other critical infrastructure companies that have already purchased upper 700 MHz A-Block licenses did so based on the availability of a range of industrial grade, high capacity and highly reliable radios. The addition of the NB-IoT low cost, long range, low power devices based on the Sequans-Pycom platform allows these license holders, and other similar companies, to consider additional applications for these frequencies.”
Georges Karam, chief executive at Sequans, said: “Puloli is addressing a very powerful trend in the US utility market and is enabling municipalities and utilities to provide smart energy services and develop new business models, benefitting utilities and their customers. The results of our work with Puloli and Pycom are now visible and we are excited to see Puloli’s ground-breaking network operational.”
Fred de Haro, chief executive at Pycom, said: “We’re delighted that NB-IoT is gaining such momentum and that Puloli has chosen to work with Pycom and Sequans. It’s the first large-scale test case for Pycom’s utilities vertical using NB-IoT network technology and it’s exciting to be part of that journey.”