The Business Times

Singapore becomes IoT-ready as networks are rolled out

Published Sun, Aug 13, 2017 · 09:50 PM


VERY soon the humble electricity meter in your house will be having its own telecom network through which it will be able to connect to a back office and give details about your electricity usage. And your water meter may not be far behind. Both will help you save money by giving you smart information on usage.

These are just two of the thousands of different services that are part of the Smart Nation journey and have become closer to reality with Singapore's telecom infrastructure developing the smarts needed for the IoT (Internet of Things) revolution, where millions of devices will connect to the network and capture real-time data.

Last week, Singapore Telecommunications (Singtel) and M1 announced the rollout of their respective IoT networks. Earlier in the year, UnaBiz launched its own network with nationwide coverage. StarHub has also announced that it is in the process of rolling out its own network.

Of these four operators, UnaBiz is a newcomer of sorts. Founded in 2016, it is an IoT solutions company which operates in Singapore and Taiwan. UnaBiz has a partnership with SigFox, a French company that builds wireless networks to connect low-energy objects such as electricity meters, smart watches and washing machines, which need to be continuously on and emitting small amounts of data.

Tan Kiat How, chief executive of the Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA) of Singapore, noted during the M1 launch that IoT is a key technology area for growth "which will drive Singapore's digital economy for a Smart Nation". He added: "We encourage companies to embrace the exciting benefits of NB-IoT (NarrowBand IoT) as we move towards the digital future."

According to data from Analysys Mason, total IoT revenue in Singapore is projected to be S$714 million in 2025. Out of this, hardware and installation would account for S$270 million, connectivity and services S$95 million and applications S$349 million.

Unlike mobile telephony, there is no interconnectivity among the IoT networks. Each operates independently and adds value by vertical integration of devices and services. They also run on slightly different standards.

Commenting on these different standards, Sherrie Huang, programme head, Asia Pacific research, at Analysys Mason, said: "Singtel and M1 both support NB-IoT, while Singtel emphasised on LTE M too, which is in the same 3GPP standard family with more features than NB-IoT and a later ready date." 3GPP refers to the standards body which developed the 3G mobile standards.

Ms Huang's colleague at Analysys Mason, Dion Teo, manager - strategy consulting, added: "Looking at it from a higher level, if we are talking about different networks on different technologies, for example, UnaBiz on SigFox versus M1 on NB-IoT, the devices are definitely not inter-operable and any change in technology/service provider in the future will need to coincide with equipment refresh (for example, if the sensors last for 10 years, then the next refresh will happen in 10 years).

"The main issue leading to the current fragmentation in terms of technology standards is the fact that NB-IoT was standardised in 2016 only, while other proprietary technologies, such as SigFox and LoRa, were available commercially earlier. The view is that mobile network operators across the world are likely to favour NB-IoT moving forward now that the standards have been finalised," Mr Teo added.

Bill Chang, CEO, group enterprise at Singtel, said the telco's IoT network "provides an ideal platform" for the proliferation of IoT devices and applications. "With more businesses embracing the digital future, it paves the way for IoT adoption as Singapore advances towards becoming a Smart Nation. We welcome businesses to be part of the growing IoT ecosystem by leveraging our robust infrastructure and network."

Talking about her company's network, M1 chief executive officer Karen Kooi said the "launch of South-east Asia's first commercial nationwide NB-IoT network" will accelerate Singapore's journey into a digital society. "IoT will open up an incredible array of fresh opportunities and innovation. We look forward to working closely with government agencies, technology partners and customers to enable smart solutions for everything and everyone."

UnaBiz founder and CEO Henri Bong said the company's "low-cost, nationwide network" fits well with government institutions and large corporations that need to collect and process data from their existing assets on a national and global level.

Keppel Electric is one of M1's IoT network collaborators. It is piloting the NB-IoT Energy Management Meter, which is expected to enable it to deploy power and water meters to its customers' premises faster and more cost-effectively. These meters will further enable commercial, industrial and residential customers to track their energy usage.

"With the full liberalisation of the electricity market expected in 2018, the launch of M1's NB-IoT network is a timely development for us and our customers, who will get to enjoy easy access to useful real-time consumption data at a lower cost. We also see the potential of such implementations helping consumers to manage their electricity use more prudently," said Janice Bong, general manager, Keppel Electric.

Singtel will invite businesses and technology partners to try out and develop IoT solutions at its IoT Innovation Lab. Set up in collaboration with Ericsson, the lab allows businesses to experience new IoT applications first-hand and develop business models. "We are constantly forging partnerships with IoT enablers to create a rich IoT ecosystem, and develop end-to-end solutions to meet our customers' needs," said Mr Chang.

A StarHub spokeswoman said: "Our focus is to enable our corporate customers to drive better business outcome leveraging IoT technologies. For example, we have deployed a Savioke autonomous service delivery robot for M Social Singapore to help the hotel address its manpower crunch challenge. We have also delivered smart metering solutions to enable customers with IoT analytics to drive savings in consumption."

UnaBiz's Mr Bong added the company was recently selected by Airbus to work on IoT solutions for aircraft maintenance operations. "We want to help Airbus build intelligence in tools, components and other devices used in specific MRO processes."

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