While the spring of 2018 is warming in, the IoT world is buzzing over the rise of NB-IoT, an alternative Low Power Wide Area Network communication protocol, with announcements of pilot projects, compatible hardware releases and even more buzz.
NB-IoT or NarrowBand-IoT is a LPWAN radio communications protocol designed for small pieces of data to be sent at regular intervals. It’s part of the 3GPP standardized protocols, competing with LoraWan, Sigfox, Weightless and others.
Supporting uplink and downlink rates of around 200 kbps, gaining 20 dB over conventional GSM networks and compatible with more than 100,000 connections per cell, it is understandable why telecom carriers in Europe and Asia have been pushing on NarrowBand-IoT trial implementations in the last 18 months.
NB-IoT works with licensed frequency bands, in comparison to other LPWAN protocols that use the unlicensed ISM radio spectrum, like LoRa WAN or Sigfox, and because of that, can guarantee Service Level Agreements (SLA) where ISM protocols and networks cannot.
Innovation communities have been also pushing NB IoT prototyping in oder to bring together big businesses, private entrepreneurs and start-ups that develop software and hardware. One of the first tech incubator that got involved was Hubraum championing 2 programs: NB-IoT Hackaton and WARP NB-IoT Prototyping Days since 2016.
NB-IoT can work in remote locations where normal Internet coverage is not an option due to its increased link budget. Because of it’s benefits, trial implementations have been conducted for a series of Internet of Things applications like waste management, air monitoring, smart metering, asset tracking or parking.
Smart metering is a fitting application for low power communication technologies, like NB-IoT, taking into consideration the versatile possibilities of placing antennas, the less computational power hungry hardware with high availability within bidirectional communications and longer battery life.
Traditionally smart meters send small pieces of data in a configurable time interval, usually around a few minutes to a gateway or a hub from where there are transferred in a server where becomes accessible by the operating personal; with NB-IoT smart meters can communicate directly with the cloud, without the need of a gateway or hub, lowering both system complexity and costs while increasing flexibility.
NB IoT compatible smart meters
Last year, the first smart meter compatible with NB-IoT was presented in Portugal, as part of a pilot project of the Horizon 2020 Program parented by the European Commission and, even though early measurements indicate clearly that NB-IoT has a higher energy consumption than Wireless M-Bus, it can be more reliable in challenging projects, being consistently more versatile. Danish smart meter producer Kamstrup, has announced adding the communications protocol to their solutions batch regarding electricity metering with projects in Iceland and Germany.
Taking into account the market interest, large scale implementations are in sight, although it’s the long way from initial trials to a working infrastructure that will prove the added value of NB IoT, especially taking into consideration that this is not the only novelty rated communications protocol out there, with Sigfox, LoRa and LTE E, all in the same booth, each with their own pros and cons.
DeviceHub’s Smart Metering Pro offers cloud data solution for smart meters (automatic meter reading, meter data management, device management, analytics and reporting). It integrates all utilities in one dashboard, saving utility vendors, meter producers and space renters time and money.