Thanks to modern technology, the world is drawn closer by closer connections every day. In the last five decades, the world has gone from using ARPANET to 5G. Growth in the previous decade, in particular, has been exponential. What started as a node-to-node connection for simple data exchange has now become the foundation of the modern world, a massive network of devices connected globally over the internet. These connections are not limited to machine-to-machine (M2M); devices from phones and e-readers to home management systems and smart bulbs, all smart objects, are connected through the internet.
A Unified World
With the technology of the Internet of Things (IoT), it is now possible for everyday objects to connect and exchange data. These smart objects are embedded with sensors, software, and other technologies to connect and exchange data with similar systems and devices over a communications network, usually the internet.
By the end of 2025, it is estimated that there will be 38.6 billion Internet of Things (IoT) connected devices worldwide. Such a massive number of devices will require a secure and dependable network that can support them all. This is where the emerging technology of Narrowband Internet of Things (NB-IoT) comes into play.
What is NB-IoT technology?
Narrowband IoT or NB-IoT, or LTE-M2, is a new wireless technology that does not conform to the standard and licensed LTE construct. It is an LPWAN (Low Power Wide Area Network) technology that operates independently in unused 200-kHz bands previously used in Global System for Mobile Communications networks known as GSM.
In 2016, telecommunication giants such as Huawei, Ericsson, Qualcomm, and Vodafone came together to classify NB-IoT as 5G technology. They collectively put this standard in conjunction with 3GPP. The emerging technology is being utilised to enable a plethora of new IIoT (Industrial IoT) devices, including smart parking, wearables, utilities, and industrial solutions.
NarrowBand IoT allows multiple devices to send data even without standard mobile network coverage. The licensed frequency spectrum it uses does not interfere with other devices, facilitating more reliable data transfer. As a standards-based LPWAN technology, it can cover large areas while consuming a smaller amount of energy.
NB-IoT is supported by all key mobile equipment, module, and chipset manufacturers. It can concur with 2G, 3G, and 4G mobile networks. It has a simple infrastructure that permits faster and easier implementation. NarrowBand-IoT can also leverage the security and privacy features of mobile networks.
NB IoT Benefits
Power efficient and Cost-Effective – NarrowBand-IoT consumes a small amount of energy while covering a large area, connecting up to 50000 devices per NB-IoT network cell. This improves the power consumption of user devices and makes the overall system cost-effective. The low power consumption enables battery life of more than ten years.
Secure and Reliable – Using a licensed spectrum means greater reliability for users and guaranteed resource allocation for managed Quality of Service (QoS). It also means less interference and reliable transmissions. The underlying technology is simple to design, develop, and deploy. It offers security and privacy features similar to LTE mobile networks and supports user identity confidentiality, data integrity, entity authentication, and mobile equipment identification.
Wider Deployment and Global Reach – NarrowBand-IoT has lower bit rates than LTE-M1, can directly connect sensors to the base station and does not need a gateway to provide connectivity. This makes it an excellent option for broader deployment at low costs. NB-IoT is also able to function deep underground and in enclosed spaces. The usage of a mobile wireless network enables it to offer better scalability.
NarrowBand IoT versus Other Technologies
Here is how NB-IoT fares against other technologies such as SIGFOX, LoRa (Long Range Radio), LTE-M (Long Term Evolution – Machine Type Communication)
|Coverage/Range||approx. 10Km||approx. 12Km||approx. 11Km||approx. 15Km|
|Data Rate||10Kbps||nearly 100bps||nearly 10Mbps||100Kbps|
|Maximum Number of messages/day||50000(BTS)||140 devices
NarrowBand IoT Applications and Use Cases
Solutions powered by NB-IoT are applicable in various scenarios and industries. In situations requiring automatic meter reading, NB-IoT offers a better solution than most other protocols and technologies. NB-IoT finds usability in smart meter reading, agriculture, logistics, smart city solutions, and so on. Its ability to transfer large amounts of data, especially in inaccessible areas, makes it the best fit for underground modules. NB-IoT use cases include:
- Smart metering (electricity, gas, and water meter)
- Smart buildings with intruder and fire alarms for residential and commercial properties
- Personal appliances connected to measure health parameters
- Tracking people, animals, or objects
- Smart city infrastructure, for instance, smart parking, streetlights, or dustbins
- Connected industrial appliances.
Barriers to NB-IoT
Easy deployment and good range are just a few of the advantages of NB-IoT. However, as with all technology, NB-IoT also comes with a few limitations, including the following:
- The data rate is low compared to LTE cat-M1.
- NB-IoT is considered ideal for idle devices.
- No support for VoLTE (Voice Over LTE) for speech transmission means no voice transmission.
- Roaming, though expected soon, is not supported yet.
- With LTE support finding favour with carriers, deployment could be a problem.
- Increased initial costs.
India and NarrowBand-IoT
In India, most mobile operators generally use the 900 MHz (licensed) band as the NB-IoT band. Giant players in the Indian Telecom sector have already pointed out the use-cases for NB-IoT’s deployment. They have, furthermore, often pointed out the benefits businesses and the government can reap from utilising this technology, especially in the mission for Smart Cities.
NB-IoT in India can be utilised to various ends in a smart city, from air-quality monitoring and smart parking to damage prediction in the event of a disaster to waste management. Several countries have already begun deploying the solutions and are actively looking to enhance them further. NB-IoT has the potential to become a mainstream technological resource in India soon, ranking the country among the cream of global technology leaders.