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Summary

Singapore operator M1 has switched on its commercial, nationwide NB-IoT network, the first in Singapore and Southeast Asia, pipping rival MNOs Singtel and StarHub. M1 is banking on its NB-IoT network to fuel growth in its ICT and digital solutions business and is targeting the automotive and transportation, retail, smart nation, and finance and insurance verticals. M1's first-mover advantage is likely to be short-lived, however, as Singtel and StarHub will launch their IoT networks before the end of 2017, making Singapore a crowded market. Singtel will be a strong rival in the IoT space, given the strength of its enterprise business group and Asia-Pacific footprint. M1 needs to make its first-mover advantage count by scooping up as many early adopters as possible. Having the right pricing strategy will also be crucial for M1 to drive initial and sustained uptake of its NB-IoT network.

M1 needs to make the most of its first-mover advantage with NB-IoT before the market becomes crowded

Singapore operator M1 has switched on its commercial, nationwide NB-IoT network, the first in Singapore and Southeast Asia. The smallest among the three MNOs in Singapore, M1 has pipped rivals Singtel and StarHub to claim the honors about a year after it first revealed plans to deploy an IoT network based on NB-IoT, a low-power, wide-area (LPWA) network technology using licensed spectrum.

M1 stated that it wants to "work closely with government agencies, technology partners, and customers to enable smart solutions for everything and everyone." One of its big-name collaborators is Keppel Electric, an electricity retailer whose more than 3,000-strong customer base includes multinational companies, small and medium-sized enterprises, and government bodies. Keppel Electric is piloting an energy management meter for its commercial, industrial, and residential customers to track their energy consumption in real time. Other M1 partners have also showcased IoT solutions such as asset tracking, fleet management, and environmental monitoring including humidity and floodwater monitoring.

With its NB-IoT network, M1 wants to grow its ICT and digital solutions business and is targeting the automotive and transportation, retail, smart nation, and finance and insurance verticals. To support its ambitions, M1 has a new ICT team to facilitate customers' IoT deployments, providing technical guidance and matching customers' IoT needs with the right partners to which M1 has access.

Being the only NB-IoT player in town gives M1 a first-mover advantage, but not for long. Rival MNOs Singtel and StarHub both announced updates to their IoT launch plans on the day that M1 launched its NB-IoT network – a shrewd tactical public relations move to steal M1's thunder. But the more important message that Singtel and StarHub is sending to the market is that there is no need to rush into M1's arms; in a few months, the market will have a bigger choice of IoT networks.

Singtel will launch its IoT network by the end of September 2017. Its network is based on NB-IoT and Cat. M (also known as LTE-M), another type of LPWA network using licensed spectrum that can also handle voice communications. Meanwhile, StarHub is currently deploying NB-IoT as well as LoRa, a LPWA network using unlicensed spectrum, and expects to launch in a few months.

These are exciting developments for Singapore. Until M1's NB-IoT launch, UnaBiz's nationwide Sigfox network, another type of LPWA network using unlicensed spectrum, was the only option available, marked out by its very low per-device, per-year pricing. With the lastest IoT network launch schedule updates from Singtel and StarHub, we will see a crowded IoT network market by the end of 2017. But Ovum considers there will be enough local uptake for these IoT networks, given the vast range of potential use cases for IoT and the $216m set aside by the Singaporean government for its Smart Nation project.

However, Singapore MNOs need to start thinking about how to go beyond Singapore to build scale and position themselves to support the global operations of Singapore-based large enterprise customers. Ovum considers that Singtel has an advantage with large enterprise customers, given its Asia-Pacific footprint and strong enterprise business group. StarHub's addition of LoRa to its NB-IoT deployment is reminiscent of SK Telecom's successful Cat. M and LoRa dual LPWA network strategy, which should bode well for the MNO.

This leaves M1 the task of scooping up as many early adopters as possible of its NB-IoT network to make its first-mover advantage count. Having the right pricing strategy will also be crucial for M1 to drive initial and sustained uptake. Should competition become intense in future, M1 would be glad to know that it has the option to even the technology odds by adding Cat. M through software-based upgrades of its existing LTE network.

Appendix

Further reading

"Chinese MNOs will make or break NB-IoT adoption in Asia and Oceania," TE0019-000044 (July 2017)

IoT & LPWA Network Deployment Tracker: 2Q17, TE0019-000042 (June 2017)

Drivers and dynamics for the emerging LPWA IoT market, TE0019-000036 (April 2017)

"In IoT, 2017 will be the year of LPWA," TE0019-000032 (February 2017)

"NB-IoT likely to dominate IoT deployments in Asia-Pacific," TE0016-000326 (January 2017)

Author

TZ Wong, Senior Analyst, IoT Practice

tz.wong@ovum.com

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