NB-IoT: A Narrow-Band Primer for the Internet of Things

Dan Heredia
Sep 27, 2018 10:35:46 AM

NB-IoT is one of the most recently created cellular networks, built in an effort to support the explosive growth of IoT devices thanks to lower cost computing.

Narrow-band Internet of Things (NB-IoT), along with LTE CAT M1, are the latest types of wireless network technology created by mobile network operators (MNOs, also known as carriers) to support IoT applications where previous cellular connectivity options were not as optimized - due to a number of reasons. The previous LTE networks were primarily designed for high speed applications that could consume a lot of bandwidth (video, for example). This new class of networks were designed to be the optimal network for low power IoT solutions that are not continuously sending data back to the cloud.

Some examples of IoT solutions where NB-IoT or LTE CAT M1 could be a good fit include:

  • Oil & Gas meters
  • Street lights, parking and waste management applications in smart cities
  • Agriculture
  • Fish and wildlife management

These applications all tend to require IoT solutions that can last for months to years without regular on-site intervention and would likely not need to send data to the cloud very often, instead being designed to have regularly scheduled "check-ins."

Some compelling advantages of NB IoT that carriers are now promoting, include:

  • Improved indoor coverage over 3G networks (since these new networks leverage the wall-penetrating LTE frequencies or even lower frequencies than most 3G networks)
  • Lower component costs and competitive data rates
  • Still operates in the licensed spectrum (good for security reasons)
  • Low power optimized, so battery drain is improved compared to other cellular networks

OEMs should keep in mind however that NB-IoT networks also have their own disadvantages to keep in mind:

  • Not yet widely available in more rural geographies - this will take time in order to support ALL of the features of the new standards (such as delayed keep-alive)
  • Just like any cellular network, costs to OEMs are ongoing. This in and of itself is not necessarily a disadvantage, if you can successfully monetize these services.

Sunsetting 3G Networks

As carriers transition their networks from 3G networks to newer, improved technologies, networks like NB-IoT and LTE CAT M1 will be compelling IoT connectivity options for manufacturers to take advantage of and design their devices around. The lower upfront technology costs, lower data costs, and the new business models made possible through ubiquitous “always available” wireless networks, allows OEMs to offer differentiated services for an ever increasing number of product categories.

The key for OEMs will be to architect their IoT offerings in such a way as to make cellular-enabled solutions a cost-competitive, compelling choice for their users - often taking the form of subscription-based models.

The Zipit team has years of experience helping OEMs build these cellular-based subscription IoT offerings, so if you are looking for a partner to assist you, reach out to us for a free consultation.

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