Operator aims to have more than 1,000 NB-IoT sites up and running by end of March.

Vodafone’s first commercial NB-IoT network went live in Spain on Monday.

The network is available initially in Madrid and Valencia. Coverage will be extended to Barcelona, Bilbao, Malaga and Seville by the end of March, as part of a nationwide rollout, said Santiago Tenorio, head of network strategy and architecture at Vodafone, in a blog post.

By then, Vodafone will have deployed NB-IoT at more than 1,000 sites, with each one able to connect more than 100,000 IoT devices, he said.

"Our Spanish NB-IoT network was deployed within existing 800-MHz spectrum. That is the optimal use of Vodafone Spain’s 4G spectrum and will maximise signal strength and coverage," he continued.

Vodafone is a vocal proponent of NB-IoT, a low-power, wide-area (LPWA) networking technology that uses licensed spectrum to provide two-way communication over long distances and in hard-to-reach locations. It can support huge numbers of cheap, low throughput devices that consume very little power.

"Using licensed spectrum means we also provide customers with the same levels of security as 4G and that the service will not be subject to potential disruption like alternative technologies utilising unlicensed spectrum," Tenorio said.

Alternatives like LoRaWAN (long range wide area networking), promoted by the LoRa Alliance, claim to offer similar performance characteristics to NB-IoT, but use unlicensed spectrum, opening the door to any company that wants to roll out an IoT network, not just licensed spectrum holders.

NB-IoT was standardised by 3GPP in June as part of its work on LTE Release 13.

"It can take up to two years to roll-out a standardised technology," Tenorio said. "Less than seven months later NB-IoT is available to our Spanish customers."

According to an earlier Vodafone announcement, the company also plans to launch NB-IoT networks in Germany, Ireland and the Netherlands during the first quarter of 2017.