SK Telecom, the largest mobile telecom carrier in South Korea, began to provide nationwide IoT (Internet of Things) services in July 2016 through adopting LoRaWAN (long range wide area network), a non-cellular LPWA (lower-power wide area) technology, on unlicensed frequency band units instead of Narrow Band-IoT (NB-IoT) on licensed band units released by the 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP) in June 2016, and this signals mobile telecom carriers' preference for non-cellular mobile communication standards using unlicensed band units for IoT business operations, according to Digitimes Research.
In addition to SK Telecom, South Korea-based LG U+, US-based AT&T, Switzerland-based Swisscom, UK-based Vodafone and Germany-based Deutsche Telekom are setting up, or will set up LPWA networks on unlicensed ISM (industrial, scientific, medical) frequency band units to provide IoT services, Digitimes Research indicated.
According to Ericsson, the global number of IoT-connected sensors increased from 500 million in 2010 to 4.6 billion in 2015 and will keep increasing to 15.7 billion in 2021, of which 90.5% will be based on non-cellular LPWA technologies.
The preference for non-cellular LPWA technologies is mainly due to the cost of deploying IoT sensing networks and the choice of frequency band units. As costs for deploying a large volume of sensors rather than costs for setting up base stations and gateways takes up a large portion of investment in setting up IoT networks, costs for a NB-IoT wireless communication module stands at US$10-20, roughly 100-200% higher than US$5-10 for an LPWA model. In terms of frequency bands, unlicensed bands available for LPWA are mostly below 1GHz, such as 433MHz, 470MHz, 780MHz, 868MHz and 915MHz bands used in LoRaWAN. For mobile telecom carriers, there are flexible and more choices of unlicensed band units and in addition, many of the licensed bands will be taken back when the license use expires.
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