IoT Solutions Consultant
Narrowband Internet of Things, generally referred to as NB-IoT, is a cellular technology focussed on connecting everyday objects to the Ionternet, allowing the transfer of small amounts of data over more extended periods. 3GPP develops this Low Power Wide Area Network (LPWAN) radio technology standard as a means to address the lack of a standard that addresses a wide range of cellular devices and services. At the time when the specification was frozen in 3GPP Release 13, NB-IoT technology was mainly focussed on indoor coverage, low cost, long battery life, and high connection density. But that isn’t to say Narrow Band IoT has not proved to be a sublime choice concerning other specifications as well.
Narrowband IoT was defined to adhere to the features of LTE. This has allowed it to integrate into already prevalent LTE networks.
Generally, in the absence of proper coverage, it is a weary task “connecting” things, given considerations like the absolute necessity of high power to enable speedy transfer, which in turn is always a constant drain on the battery. Cellular IoT is traditionally designed for the transfer of high quantities of data and is considered ideal for sensor-based low-bandwidth-data projects. As a result, they are not precisely considered ideal for the transfer of small amounts of infrequent data.
NB-IoT, as the future driver of IoT, addresses all these inadequacies. This cellular technology is particularly focussed on the interaction between devices that require the transfer of data in minimal quantities but over more extended periods. This data-driven technology can connect any stationary device to the Internet of Things, making it the ideal technology for static sensor applications. NB-IoT can co-exist with networks such as 2G, 3G, and 4G, and benefit from the security and privacy features of mobile networks. This is also why it is considered a better alternative to license-free LPWAN technologies like SigFox and LoRa.
As mentioned before, NB-IoT technology is designed to meet everything that traditional cellular technology has fallen short of, and that is precisely why it is recognized as a technology of the future. 3GPP has identified NB-IoT to be a less expensive option than LTE-M, with the added benefits of extensive range, longevity, and ability to support a large number of devices over just 200 kHz of the spectrum. This means that it is rapidly getting popular among a wide variety of devices, ranging from storage units and wind turbines to smoke detectors and smart parking systems. NB-IoT provides deeper building penetration than LTE-M, which is achieved by low bitrates. It also offers better link budgets for NB-IoT.
NB-IoT operates in the licensed spectrum and is considered highly secure. It bought in the much-needed economies of scale to the Internet of Things. The efficiency and cost-effectiveness associated with NB-IoT will drive the future popularity of this cellular technology.
NB-IoT has a very narrow bandwidth of 200KHz, and therefore the data peaks at around 250kbps. This feature comes useful in scenarios where lower amounts of data are required to be transmitted at infrequent intervals, mainly over short distances. Because it is designed to operate at low speed, the low power consumption is stressed as a major advantage associated with it. NB-IoT employs two power optimization techniques called PSM(Power Saving Mode) and eDRX (Extended Discontinuous Reception).
Power Save Mode feature enables a cellular modem to turn off the radio communication and puts the device to sleep. PSM has the following key points:
Extended Discontinuous Reception, also termed as eDRX, benefits IoT devices to reduce power consumption. They can be used without PSM or in conjunction with PSM to obtain additional power savings. eDRX has the following key points:
The stand-alone mode utilizes a standalone carrier, e.g., spectrum currently used by GSM EDGE Radio Access Network (GERAN) systems as a replacement for one or more GSM carriers. It is employed for instances where cellular services are not present or are decommissioned to make a narrowband spectrum available, as in the case of cellular GSM. Restructuring one or more GSM carriers to enable NB-IoT traffic ensures a smooth transition to LTE for massive machine type communication.
This mode utilizes unused resource blocks within an LTE carrier’s guard-band. It is employed in cases where cellular services are available, and NB-IoT is present in the guard band of LTE.
This mode utilizes resource blocks within a normal LTE carrier. It is employed in cases where cellular services are available, and NB-IoT is present in the guard band of LTE. This mode of operation is cost-effective and seamless for mobile operators as it does not require any hardware changes and efficiently uses spectrum resources for LTE or NB-IoT services based on demand from mobile users or devices.
NB-IoT has an impressive battery life of 10 years, made possible using power optimization techniques such as eDRX and PSM. But impressive battery life will be of no use if the technology decides to give in before the so proclaimed ten years. So developing a technology that delivers uninterrupted connectivity, seamlessly and efficiently on the same battery for a full decade, is a major challenge associated with NB-IoT.
NB-IoT is rapidly getting popular with telecom operators, equipment manufacturers, and industry pioneers. According to the data released by GSMA in March 2019, a total of 140 operators in 69 countries are investing in NB-IoT networks; with 88 operators in 50 countries have successfully deployed their networks. The major markets of NB-IoT are Europe, North America, Asia Pacific, Latin America, and MEA. The spread pattern of NB-IoT was initially concentrated across Europe, but now they are spread all across the world; North America, Asia Pacific, Latin America, and MEA.
Unlike the popular belief that NB-IoT is a 4G technology, it is now widely recognized to occupy an essential role in the 5G system, supporting 5G LPWAN use cases. It is expected to be the prime 5G IoT solution that will connect a wide range of low power IoT devices. 3GPP Standards have already indicated that NB-IoT will be part of the 5G technology and is in the process of experimenting with mechanisms that allow connectivity of NB-IoT to the 5G core network. This enables mobile operators to leverage LPWAN investments and progress alongside by incorporating 5G. Recognition of the 3GPP umbrella regarding the evolution of NB-IoT affirms its long term stature. 3GPP Release 16 is expected to contain details about the NB-IoT in-band deployment with 5G NR in the 5G spectrum, which will be submitted with 5G NR to meet the IMT-2020 5G requirements.
NB-IoT uses secure dedicated communication channels, the use which ensures confidentiality and data integrity. The encryption of data further adds to the security of this technology. NB-IoT follows the UDP protocol, which caters to the security concerns in communication. Furthermore, the mobile operators can manage secure connections by the use of a secure Virtual Private Network (VPN) connection to the operators’ platform, creating a path from the device to the customers’ cloud server.
|Deployment||In-band & Guard band LTE, standalone|
|Peak rate (DL/UL)||DL ~250 kbpsUL ~250 for multitone, ~20kbps for single tone|
|Power saving||eDRX, PSM-Power Saving Mode|
|Expected battery life||10 years|
|Coverage||Europe, North America, Asia Pacific, Latin America and ME|
Comparing The Two Leading Lpwan Technologies
|Peak data rate < 100 kbps||Peak data rate- 384 kbps|
|Latency 1.5 – 10 seconds||Latency 50 – 100 ms|
|Particularly focused on low data rates.||Particularly focused on maintaining a high bandwidth.|
|Ideal for static sensor application cases.||Ideal for mobile application uses.|
|No voice support.||Supports voice in areas of standard coverage.|
|Cost per module 5-10 dollars||10-15 dollars|
NB-IoT does not fully support mobility (LTE-M also supports voice) as opposed to LTE-M since the 3GPP Release 13 (Release 14 has some improvements as in many characteristics of NB-IoT).
NB-IoT is mainly used in applications and use cases with fixed (stationary) assets and devices but doesn’t always mean that they can’t be used for devices that aren’t stationary. There are certain applications such as real-live NB-IoT applications with trackers, shared bicycle applications, environmental applications with moving components, smart logistics, etc.
With NB-IoT, the device needs to reselect cells as it travels; but with LTE-M, that isn’t the case. So, it’s far less suited for mobile (and the reselection of cells has an impact on battery life as it consumes power). In general, fixed assets such as those smart meters or point of sales terminals, to add another, are the typical area of NB-IoT but not the sole – and for ‘real seamless mobility’ it’s LTE-M.
This low power wide area cellular technology works from anywhere, some location right in the heart of the city where the network connectivity is as reliable as it gets, to deep underground tunnels where it is much harder to penetrate. NB-IoT is widely accepted for its power and cost efficiency, making it an obvious choice for a wide range of applications.
NB-IoT can be utilized in the employment of advanced metering infrastructure, which enables two-way communication between the meter and the user, without the involvement of the physical presence of a monitor. NB-IoT can facilitate direct controlling and monitoring of devices from any specific location as per the convenience of the owner of the equipment.
The scope of NB-IoT is unlimited when the application involves smart cities. From Automatic Street Lighting to Smart Waste Management to Smart Parking, the opportunities opened up to employ NB-IoT are innumerous. Other applications include connected emergency services, weather monitoring, and traffic monitoring.
NB-IoT can be connected to sensors that are designed to alert the users whenever there are disruptions in the optimally set parameters, like access control & identity management, room temperature, smoke detectors, lighting controls, oxygen levels in confined rooms, intruder alerts, and fire alarms.
NB-IoT technology can materialize the idea of connected personal appliances that measures health parameters. These appliances, mostly in the form of wearables, are proving to be a great boon for the elderly, who require constant monitoring of their health parameters. NB-IoT is the most reliable and feasible option when parameters such as Blood Pressure and Heart rate are to be measured and analyzed at regular intervals.
NB-IoT as an underlying technology is used in industrial appliances ranging from precision farming tools in the agriculture sector to smart shelves in the connected retail sector. NB-IoT enables automation in manufacturing and real-time monitoring of equipment. This technology’s advanced performance can enable factories and warehouses to achieve efficient integration of processes and equipment through real-time decision making and enhanced efficiency.
With NB-IoT technology, you can easily rein in the overconsumption of power and water resources, thereby cutting short any wastage involved. This technology proves exceptionally useful when the apparatuses are set up in underground tunnels, cellars, and excavated locations. NB-IoT has the ability to decipher meter readings easily, giving away any obscure information related to wastage or obstruction of flow.
In Agricultural Industry, NB-IoT can help you constantly monitor the growth status of your crops and livestock health through data-driven decision-making. NB-IoT enabled smart soil sensors, and analytics can help automate farm processes like irrigation and manuring through precision farming, by providing regular updates about the set conditions.
From Supply Chain management to logistics, NB-IoT has bought in the optimization of multiple aspects of the retail sector. NB-IoT can facilitate easy tracking of assets of the organization, provided the tracking is of non-continuous nature. This technology is considered ideal in cases when the tracking involved is long-range and low power consuming.
NB-IoT has grown to be a key technology enabler that supports wireless connectivity in a licensed spectrum to devices (static or mobile). IoT devices will transform wireless network capacity and leverage the demand for coverage as their range of applications emerge from static sensors to mobile sensors with latency constraints. Furthermore, Strategy Analytics estimates that over 3 billion connected devices will be deployed in 2020. The necessity of The ability to evolve the radio access network and implement NB-IoT services is critical for mobile operators and consumers who employ IoT.