The penetration of internet of things (IoT) is on a constant rise globally. Our lives have become increasingly entwin­ed with smart devices and solutions. How­ever, in order to fully leverage the benefits of IoT, a robust connectivity system is required. Many connected devices are located deep within buildings or in remote underground structures that are often at a distance from cellular base stations. Due to the poor network coverage in these areas, the device transmitter operates on high power, which leads to a fast depletion of the battery. In addition, most IoT devices and applications transmit a small amount of data at long time intervals and as a result, cellular networks are not well optimised. All these factors make the existing cellular standards unsuitable for these devices.

Low power wide area network (LPWAN) fills the gap between mobile and short-range wireless networks. Desig­n­­ed for machine communications, the network provides connectivity for devices and applications that require low mobility and low levels of data transfer, and is therefore critical for the development of IoT. Narrow­­­band-IoT (NB-IoT) is a type of LPWAN. It is a standards-based LPWA technology with the capability to enable a wide range of IoT devices and services. It efficiently connects devices on existing mobile networks and is ideal for applications that need to communicate small am­ounts of data over long periods of time. NB-IoT significantly reduces the power consumption of user devices while improving system capacity and spectrum efficiency. It can support a battery life of more than 10 years for a wide range of use cases. Since NB-IoT consumes less power, it is also more cost effective. In addition, the hardware required to support NB-IoT is much cheaper than that requir­ed for standard long term evolution (LTE) modules.

NB-IoT technology has encryption and SIM-based authentication features, which make it more secure than other technologies, such as Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, which use crowded radio spectrum and are more vulnerable to interference. The physical layer signals and channels in NB-IoT technology are designed to meet the requirements of devices located in extended coverage areas. The long range connectivity of the technology provides users greater flexibility in terms of choice of stationing of their devices and, therefore, has multiple cases. Further, companies can run and connect a large number of devices on a licensed spectrum, and provide improved reliability and quality of service to its users.

On-ground implementation

  • Reliance Jio, in partnership with Sam­sung, rolled out the NB-IoT network in Mumbai in February 2018. With this, Jio aims to facilitate new use cases such as vehicle tracking, smart appliances, smart metering, security and surveillance. In April 2018, RJIL started conducting trials for enterprise solutions and IoT services in India.
  • In March 2018, Singtel deployed Singa­pore’s first commercially available NB-IoT network. According to Singtel, its network offers an open connectivity plat­­form that enables devices or services to interact with one another regardless of the service provider and technology. Also, the technology will utilise Sin­g­tel’s new 2.5 GHz spectrum.
  • In June 2018, Russian telecom operator, PJSC Vimplecom Beeline launched a trial NB-IoT network in Moscow. Erics­son had installed two base stations in the 1 km trial zone, which enabled up to 10,000 connections per base station. The network is deployed on LTE technology and is suitable for the low-speed collection of telemetric data from meters. The low-data speed rate is about 20/60 kbps uplink/downlink.
  • In July 2018, T-Mobile rolled out the first NB-IoT service in the US, which covers almost 2.1 million square miles and about 320 million people.
  • In July 2018, Telenor Denmark announ­­­ced the completion of nationwide live NB-IoT and LTE-M (LTE for machin­es) network deployment spanning over 2,000 cell sites. Following this, Telenor has been testing new IoT solutions based on NB-IoT/LTE-M connectivity with several companies.

Conclusion

There has been an upsurge in the de­mand for connected devices. Consu­mers are in­creasingly moving towards a more connected life where everything from their homes to cars is connected with each other. This has opened up a significant opportunity for mobile operators who can work towards enhancing their licensed cellular networks with NB-IoT technology and provide se­a­m­­less, cost effective and power efficient coverage for IoT devices.