Spark and Vodafone announce competing investments in 'internet of things'
New Zealand is set to get four competing low-cost networks for connecting "internet of things" devices after Vodafone and Spark announced investments on the same day.
Vodafone and Spark both said they would deploy "narrowband" networks early next year.
That is to prepare for an expected surge in demand to connect devices such as sensors, industrial equipment and whiteware to the internet.
The telecommunications companies will join Australian company Thinxtra – a company part-owned by NZX-listed business Rakon – and KotahiNet which have already rolled out networks dedicated to IoT devices across most of the country.
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The competition comes days after a report funded by technology companies and the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment warned that Kiwi firms were holding back from IoT investments precisely because of the fear they might back the wrong network technology.
The report estimated the economy could benefit by between $1.1 billion and $3.3b over 10 years from hooking up more "things" to the internet.
But it said customers struggled to decide which communication technologies and standards would last the distance.
Narrowband technology is the opposite of broadband technology, and is designed to carry small amounts of data long-distances and at low-cost, using very little power.
That can be key for IoT transceivers, which often need to be embedded in millions of items equipment and left for decades.
Vodafone's network will be based on the technology standard Narrowband-IoT (NB-IoT).
"There are many IoT networks available now but we think NB-IoT is a premium technology choice that is worth waiting for," technology director Tony Baird said.
"It is supported by over 40 of the world's largest mobile operators plus many more suppliers and innovators that serve the majority of the global IoT market."
Spark's network will be built by state-owned enterprise Kordia and will use another global standard called LoRa.
"A significant proportion of the network is expected to be operational by June 2018, enabling sensors and devices to be connected over the LoRa network nationwide, with broad coverage at an affordable price point," Spark's IoT manager Michael Stribling said.
Thinxtra's network, also built by Kordia, is based on a technology developed by French IoT pioneer Sigfox.
KotahiNet, headed by former InternetNZ chief executive Vikram Kumar, uses LoRa but at a different radio frequency to Spark's proposed network.