NTT DoCoMo shuts down NB-IoT service

Japan’s NTT DoCoMo announced it is terminating its NB-IoT service, which it started offering almost a year ago.

“In light of the current business environment, we have decided to stop providing this communication system in order to concentrate management resources,” the operator said in a translated press release.

DoCoMo’s discontinuation of the service took effect March 31. It said its low-power Category 1 and LTE-M services will continue to be available.  

Matt Hatton, founding partner at Transforma Insights, said via email that NB-IoT has had a few teething problems. What was advertised as a cheap and easy software upgrade to LTE networks has proven to be rather more expensive and painful than anticipated, “at least if you want to deliver the kind of performance promised,” he said.

Ultimately it comes down to economics. “The super-cheap data plans that seem to be dominating everyone’s thinking in IoT of a dollar or two a year just don’t generate enough money to justify the trouble and expense of NB-IoT upgrades, at least not at today’s volumes,” he said.

With NTT DoCoMo's decision to pull the plug, it's a bit of a chicken-and-egg situation, however, as the company certainly won’t see the volumes it needs with the network switched off. "I’m sure they’ll be back at some point in the future, most likely when mMTC (massive machine-type communication) is specified as part of 5G,” he added.

Realistically, there’s only one standards-based narrowband low power technology with the likelihood of being deployed everywhere, and that’s NB-IoT, which is what will form the basis of that capability within 5G, he noted. “LTE-M is fine as a 2G replacement, but it doesn’t have the battery life advantages that NB-IoT should be able to deliver,” he said.

RELATED: AT&T says its nationwide NB-IoT network is up and running

In the U.S., T-Mobile was the first to market with its NB-IoT network, which went live in July 2018. Verizon lit up its nationwide NB-IoT network last year.

AT&T launched its nationwide LTE-M network in May 2017, and last year it turned on its NB-IoT network. At the time, the company described NB-IoT as optimized for stationary use cases, such as simple sensors, on-off buttons, smart agriculture, door locks and industrial monitors, while LTE-M, with its greater bandwidth, can support firmware and software updates, mobility and voice-over services.