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SKT brings IoT up to speed with new network

Feb 22,2018
SK Telecom is launching an upgraded nationwide Internet of Things (IoT) network in the hope of bolstering the sluggish uptake of IoT technology in Korea.

According to SK Telecom, on Wednesday it plans to commercialize a so-called LTE Cat.M1 network, an upgraded IoT-network standardized by the global wireless standardization body 3GPP that can carry more data at faster speeds compared to the company’s existing long-range, low-power IoT network dubbed LoRa, by April.

SK Telecom has been offering various IoT services like remote gas and electricity metering and devices to help monitor kids and the elderly on its LoRa network, established nationwide in July 2016. However, there were limitations to delivering larger files like pictures and audio, especially in buildings and underground, on the low-power LoRa network.

With the newly established LTE Cat.M1 network, users are able to deliver medium to large files including low-capacity videos, pictures and voice files, which means more opportunities for IoT devices and service providers. The LTE Cat.M1 network has a maximum download speed of 300 kilobit per second, while LoRa offers a maximum 5.4 kbps, according to data from the mobile carrier.

SK Telecom had initially introduced an LTE-M network, also called an LTE Cat.1 network, along with LoRa in 2016 for IoT services that require more data, but the network wasn’t widely adopted by IoT devices and service developers as the network showed low power efficiency and required modems with costly chipsets and modules.

The new IoT network, according to SK Telecom, has much higher power efficiency than the LTE-M network and requires modem manufacturers to use fewer and less powerful components, making it about 30 percent cheaper.

The telecom company will operate both the LTE Cat.M1 and LoRa networks for its IoT services in a two-track strategy. LTE Cat.M1 will mostly be used for complex IoT services that need real-time transmission of pictures and voice data while the existing LoRa network will be used for simple metering or position tracking services.

SK Telecom also rolled out some new IoT devices that use the LTE Cat.M1 network on Wednesday, including an IoT blackbox modem capable of offering real-time video as well as accident alarms to users’ smartphones and a blood sugar measuring device that helps users constantly monitor and manage blood sugar levels. Both devices will be released after they are exhibited at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain next week.

In the future, the new network will also support various connected car services developed by the carrier such as car-sharing and navigation services.

The LTE Cat.M1 network already passed a field test last year, but the company will stabilize the system until March for official commercialization in April. SK Telecom will be the first to commercialize the network in Korea.

According to industry sources, competitors KT and LG U+ are also preparing to launch the LTE Cat.M1 network within this year.

KT and LG U+ joined forces at the end of 2016 and established a separate nationwide IoT service network dubbed narrowband-IoT last year to rival SK Telecom’s LoRa network.

There is no stand-out leader in the local IoT services industry yet as the market is still quite small, but SK Telecom hopes that introducing multiple IoT networks earlier than its competitors will give it a competitive edge.

BY KIM JEE-HEE [kim.jeehee@joongang.co.kr]