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NB-IoT – a Novel IoT Standard

The market-sweeping Internet of Things (IoT) technology is rapidly becoming common and widely employed. According to Statista, the total number of devices connected to centralized networks and the worldwide web will exceed 75 billion by 2025.

Narrow-Band IoT or NB-IoT is a low-power wireless global network variant. So far, however, official regulatory bodies have not allocated separate frequencies for NB-IoT.

The technology is currently most efficiently used in the organization of М2М interaction systems. This is simply because here there is an urgent need to ensure uninterrupted data transfer and the lowest possible rates of energy consumption. A special case of using NB-IoT is cellular communication.

All in all, an NB-IoT-based network can be deployed:

  • within the LTE range of frequencies;
  • within the unused radio spectrum frequency ranges (which is better for preventing the interference caused by an adjacent channel that exists at the limits of LTE frequencies);
  • outside of the allocated spectrum.

But let’s dive a bit deeper into the details of NB-IoT and see what the technology will bring us in the future.

Major Benefits of NB-IoT

NB-IoT has a number of undeniable benefits, such as:

  • Efficient handling of heavy network loads. An NB-IoT base station can efficiently service up to 100,000 simultaneously connected devices.
  • Wide signal coverage. Data between devices and the base station can be transferred over extreme distances of up to 40 km in open areas (or up to 10 km within city limits). There are also custom solutions that allow increasing the data transfer distance to 100 km.
  • Strong signal penetration. The low-frequency band allows the signal to penetrate granite walls and reach inaccessible places like basements and such.
  • Continuous performance. An NB-IoT-connected device can work autonomously for up to 10 years without recharging.
  • Low energy consumption. NB-IoT devices transfer highly compressed data packages and can activate a sleep mode during downtime.

NB-IoT Use Cases

In terms of the wide employment of the NB-IoT standard, today there is a great variety of chipsets and full-fledged modules. All of them can be integrated with an intelligent carrier device and used in the future to build M2M-format networks.

The standard is most widely used in solutions for smart cities, smart homes, and, in particular, for making all kinds of measuring devices intelligent: water, gas, and electricity meters; air carbon dioxide level indicators, etc. NB-IoT also is also excellent for logistics – take a look at this absolutely brilliant project by Huawei.

The same experts from Huawei are offering progressive solutions for the eHealth industry as well. In particular, remote monitoring allows doctors to remotely consult patients and view their medical data in real-time (it is collected and transmitted by compact medical devices connected to the IoT platform via USB modems), reducing the number of urgent hospital admissions, home visits, and medical prescriptions.

Patients can now safely stay at home while the doctors monitor their condition daily and quickly take measures in complex cases. Other promising industries for the implementation of NB-IoT include industrial enterprises and environmental protection practices.

As for the geography of distribution, so far, China is considered the leader in the NB-IoT tech industry. It has more readymade services based on this standard than any other country in the world can boast (for instance, common smart parking solutions). Meanwhile, most other providers simply sell or trade NB-IoT equipment.

NB-IoT vs. LoRaWAN & Zigbee

LoRaWAN and Zigbee are perhaps the main competitors of the NB-IoT wireless data transfer standard. However, there are some fundamental differences.

LoRaWAN is a format for wide-coverage global networks that are deployed in the frequency ranges that can work without licenses, providing average data transfer speeds from 300 bit/s to 50 kbit/s. In contrast, NB-IoT can reach a speed of 200 kbit/s and perform in hard-to-reach boroughs and regions (not to mention delivering perfect performance in open areas and sparsely populated regions). (Read more: When should the LoraWAN specification be used)

On the other hand, solutions based on NB-IoT require higher carrier capacity – 180 kHz against LoRa’s 125 kHz. For the sake of fairness, it should also be noted that building NB-IoT networks from scratch requires much larger investments, with the average cost per NB-IoT module ranging between $15–20, which is double the cost of LTE modules for LoRaWAN.

ZigBee is commonly employed for smaller-scale projects, like smart apartment solutions. Its main disadvantage, when compared with the other two standards, is its limited coverage. Moreover, ZigBee works within quite busy frequencies, being used by various separate objects (this can be microwaves, Bluetooth devices, etc.) This can be a significant issue for large commercial and government projects where powerful, continuous communications are required. (Read more: Technologies to Build a Wireless Mesh Network: Z-Wave vs Zigbee)

As opposed to NB-IoT, however, ZigBee is utterly simple to deploy and implement (you can even deploy a network of this type single-handedly).

NB-IoT Predictions

According to the official data of Market Research Future, by 2023, the global market capitalization of NB-IoT devices will amount to 265 million US dollars.

From the target audience point of view, it is considered that the NB-IoT standard is most interesting for the B2B segment. Thus, in September 2019, the global Association of Mobile Telecommunications Providers disclosed data indicating that about 150 mobile operators around the world have already deployed networks based on the NB-IoT standard.

Partially, the focus on B2B is explained by the fact that the introduction of such solutions is a rather large scale and expensive procedure, and, therefore, to date it has not been very accessible to the private user. Among the world developers of the NB-IoT standard, in addition to Huawei, we can name Qualcomm, Intel Corporation, Nokia Networks, Verizon, Samsung Group, AT&T, and others.

It is also important to note that the working concept of NB-IoT is still being honed. Rumor has it that the functionality of devices based on this standard will soon be expanded with voice capacities, further speeding up the network interaction speed.

Conclusion

As you can see, NB-IoT promises to bring new opportunities to the M2M niche by achieving record levels of battery life and uninterrupted high-speed data transfer.

If you want to develop your own project based on this technology, feel free to contact us! We specialize in the implementation of IoT solutions (including solutions within the narrowband spectrum of radio frequencies) in a wide range of areas, so no matter how difficult your task is, we’ll do the best job possible!

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