What is NBIoT?

DeCode Staff
Aug 21, 2019 · 4 min read

Narrowband Internet of Things, or NBIoT, is the technology that will enable deployment of IoT to the masses. It is, as we believe, the true future of deeply embedded connectivity. But before we get into the depths of NBIoT. Here’s some background on why we are talking about it now and how it is relevant.

Jio recently announced their plans for using NBIoT to support their soon-to-be-launched IoT platform. They announced their plans to use NBIoT data from billions of smart sensors from across India, be it residential, industrial or public, with the highest reliability and lowest cost. They also provided an example of its use case, i.e. there are over 300 million electricity meters which need to be digitally connected for real-time monitoring and for giving consumers full visibility and control of both, cost and quality. They believe that going forward, each home and business premise will have dozens of connected devices. In the next 2 years, it is estimated that there will be more than 2 billion connected IoT devices in our country. Jio aims to connect at least 1 billion of these on their IoT platform.

Jio’s IoT platform will be commercially available from the 1st of January, 2020.

To understand NBIoT, we must first understand narrowband and how it works.

Narrowband is typically implemented in telecommunication technologies to carry voice data on a limited number of frequency sets. The size of the message sent via a narrowband technique utilises lesser bandwidth than the cumulative bandwidth of the underlying channel.

- Techopedia

Now that we know what narrowband means, let’s talk about how it is different from broadband.

According to the International Electrotechnical Commission, a narrowband electromagnetic disturbance “has a bandwidth less than or equal to that of a particular measuring apparatus, receiver or susceptible device”.

Inversely, a broadband disturbance, is “an electromagnetic disturbance which has a bandwidth greater than that of a particular measuring apparatus, receiver or susceptible device.”

Narrowband is used in sending audio spectrums that consume a restricted range of frequencies. The US FCC has allocated a specific range of frequency for mobile radio services, based on narrowband that spans from 50cps to 64kbps. For example, smart parking sensors; smart waste management; smart metering; etc.

Narrowband Internet of Things (NBIoT) is a standards-based, low-power wide-area (LPWA) technology, developed to enable a wide range of new IoT devices and services.

NBIoT will be supported on most modern devices which are compatible with 4G LTE platform. Which is to say that there isn’t anything that we can do to get it to work on our devices other than wait for our telecom operators to make this technology available to us.

In comparison with GPRS, NBIoT allows for much wider coverage and better indoor penetration. It also optimises power consumption of user devices, system capacities and spectrum efficiency, especially in deep coverage. Moreover, it also offers a battery life of more than 10 years for a wide range of use cases.

Among other things, the myriad of use cases for NBIoT includes,

  1. Energy saving: Using motion-based sensors, connected via NBIoT to control the brightness of LED street lights.
  2. Water conservation: IoT-enabled soil sensors to optimise water management in city parks.
  3. Livability improvements: Using IoT-powered environmental sensors to measure local temperature, humidity, and air quality.

To make it even easier to understand, here is a chart differentiating different aspects of NBIoT, as compared to LTE Cat 1 and LTE-M.

LTE Cat 1 is a medium-speed LTE standard, designed for more feature-rich IoT applications that require higher data speeds. It is the lowest costing LTE category that still has the required speeds to support data streaming.

LTE-M is the abbreviation for LTE Cat-M1 or Long Term Evolution (4G), category M1. This technology is for Internet of Things devices to connect directly to a 4G network, on batteries and without a gateway.

This table gives us the basic idea of how easily a NBIoT-powered device can work with low bandwidth and can also provide better affordability and longer battery life.

According to GSMA, “Initial cost of the NB-IoT modules is expected to be comparable to GSM/GPRS. The underlying technology is however much simpler than today’s GSM/GPRS and its cost is expected to decrease rapidly as demand increases.”

Now, NBIoT is not to be confused as a 4G replacement. It can co-exist with 2G, 3G, and 4G mobile networks. As a matter of fact, it can also benefit from the privacy features of mobile networks, like support for user identity confidentiality, entity authentication, data integrity, and mobile equipment identification.

American telecom operators including T-Mobile, Verizon, and AT&T have all been working on this technology for a while now. In fact, T-Mobile & AT&T’s NBIoT network is already in effect across the US. German telecom operator Deutsche Telekom has also gone live with the deployment of their NBIoT platform, across Europe.

The future is connected and NBIoT will empower IoT platforms to flourish and reach people in the obscurest places on Earth. We will keep a close eye on all the happenings relating to NBIoT. To learn more about NBIoT and its future developments, stay tuned to our publication.

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