China represents both a threat and an opportunity for U.S. technology companies. This week, we saw Google invest $550 million in China’s e-commerce provider JD.com while Qualcomm introduced new modems and reference designs for kids’ smartwatches based primarily on interest from the Chinese market.
So I read with interest this week the report from the GSMA on industrial IoT in China. Most of the report is data collected by a variety of consulting firms, but there are worthwhile stories from big Chinese mobile operators. It is the GSMA, after all.
One of the biggest themes in the report is the use of cellular NB-IoT, which Chinese operators are deploying at a rapid pace. In the U.S., NB-IoT, which has much lower data rates, has yet to gain ground, but AT&T, Verizon, and T-Mobile are planning networks this year and the next. So, I was eager to see where NB-IoT was being used in China in order to learn what we in the U.S. might anticipate.
The Chinese operators are using NB-IoT for smart cities as well as industrial and some smart home applications. In the interviews with Chinese operators, it sounds like the LTE Cat1M standard, which offers slightly higher data rates, might make more sense for consumer applications. One even suggests that the LTE Cat1M networks would be used to create a “premium” IoT network.
And so far, it seems that NB-IoT is cheap in China. China Telecom says it charges about 20 yuan (roughly $3) per year per NB-IoT connection. If you are thinking about putting an NB-IoT radio in every street light this sort of cost seems sustainable, especially for applications that may not generate huge amounts of money.
As more devices are connected, the Chinese operators are concerned about the lack of standards in industrial settings, much like companies in the U.S. and Europe. Also like the U.S. and Europe, Chinese executive are worried about finding workers who are familiar with information technology work and with the facilities and industrial automation demands. That’s right: China too, is dealing with the IT/OT divide.
And finally, the Chinese are putting a lot more time and effort into smart city projects. They seem to focus most on parking and congestion management, followed by air quality monitoring. Smart metering for electricity and water is also big. Projects also connect directly back to citizens in ways that the U.S. has not yet done in many places. For example, the city networks would let drivers reserve a parking space, while a city-wide system could text citizens about areas of congestion or high pollution.