The Beginning Year of Narrowband IoT Sparks New Trends
Under the current 4G telecommunications infrastructure, people can access all data deliverable via the network, which has led to demands for increased and richer networked data and, thus, generated commercial opportunities for the IoT, which is designed to cope with the need for increased data.
Prior to the 3GPP R14 specification, standards supporting IoT on mobile carriers included LTE Cat.0 (R12) and LTE Cat.M1 (R13). Both R12 Cat.0 and R13 Cat.M1 provide uplink and downlink peak rates at 1 Mbit/s, while R12 Cat.0 supports allocated bandwidths for user equipment of up to 20 MHz and R13 Cat.M1 of up to 1.4 MHz. Compared to the previous standard R8 Cat.1, which provided a downlink and uplink peak rate of 10 Mbps/5 Mbps, respectively, and 20 MHz UE bandwidth; and Cat.4, which supports a downlink and uplink peak rate of 150 Mbps/50 Mbps and 20 MHz bandwidth, we can see that the earlier standards placed more emphasis on services for faster downlink transmission speeds.
The NB-IoT was standardized in response to the requirements of most IoT usage scenarios by emphasizing lower transmission rates and reduced power consumption. However, in some circumstances, certain IoT applications will need to use other mobile communication protocols. For example, communications between mobile devices and base stations must overcome “handover” issues that can break the link between mobile devices and base stations when the device is travelling from one base station cell to another. To avoid failed handovers, LTE Cat.M1 is more suitable for IoT telecommunications because it provides a wider transmission bandwidth in order to allow data packets to accommodate a more sufficient fault-tolerance code.
The benefits of NB-IoT include wide coverage, low power consumption (no need to change batteries for 5 ~ 10 years), low cost, and the ability to connect large fleets of devices using existing 2G/3G/LTE cellular network infrastructures. NB-IoT has been adopted by tier one telecom operators such as Vodafone, China Mobile, China Telecom, and China Unicom. Moreover, upstream IC manufacturers such as Huawei, Qualcomm, Intel, and Sanechips have supplied NB-IoT chips and module solutions.
However, the cost of NB-IoT chips and modules must first be reduced in order to trigger widespread market demand, or NB-IoT will have a hard time competing with other LPWAN technology solutions. In addition, deployment times and cost must be improved in terms of network utilization and optimization. Current estimates indicate that 85% of cellular communication base stations only have to upgrade their software to support NB-IoT operations, while the rest will need a hardware revamp to implement NB-IoT and that will require increased infrastructure investment by carrier operators.
In summation, the factors that will affect the NB-IoT adoption rate include the progress of network deployment and promotion efforts by telecom carriers. Most importantly, NB-IoT adoption will depend on the innovation of business models on behalf of telecom carriers. The terminal devices of NB-IoT applications generate only a small data traffic volume and thus are sensitive to cost. If cellular LPWA networks are merely used for data transmissions, the likely revenue growth will not be high even if carriers increase the quantity of networking equipment.
Going All Out to Develop a Multitude of Applications
Considering the global market, many telecom carriers in China, Asia, and Europe have already launched NB-IoT network services. Most of them deployed NB-IoT on 800 MHz, 900 MHz, or sub-GHz spectrum bands, or use the already commercialized LTE 1,800 MHz band. Additionally, most of the carriers accelerate deployment via software upgrades, which reduce the difficulty of installing access network equipment while also driving IoT popularity.
Once the deployment of LPWAN access networks is addressed, PaaS IoT platforms and NB-IoT M2M modules can be used to develop applications related to smart city, smart agriculture, environmental monitoring, vehicle/infrastructure monitoring, intelligent parking, smart street lighting, intelligent metering, and bicycle hire, which has become a hot topic in recent years. With its features of reduced chip size and low power consumption, the NB-IoT is expected to be applied to wearables, tracking devices for the elderly and children, and monitoring devices for livestock husbandry. Driven by operators, 2018 is expected to be a wonderful beginning for NB-IoT and a booming year for the IoT.
Smart cars may use NB-IoT modules to transmit data regarding vehicle status, position tracking, or fleet management in order to facilitate data acquisition, rescue, or fleet management operations. Insurers even can use big data analysis to determine appropriate insurance premiums according to the analysis results of drivers’ driving behaviors, in addition to the standard criteria of age and sex.
Conventionally, smart home devices are based primarily on Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and ZigBee wireless technologies. In China, Haier Group has rolled out a NB-IoT-based smart life platform called NB-UHomekit that provides communication protocols to enable smart home appliances and intelligent community solutions.
However, with the integration of NB-IoT, health care devices will not need to be connected to a Wi-Fi access point to support wireless communications. This will reduce power consumption, which will help prolong the operating duration of wearable devices. Using a dedicated NB-IoT network to transmit data instead of Wi-Fi will also provide enhanced data security and reliability, by eliminating leaks of personal information during data transmissions. For telemedicine solutions, collected data can be used to build personalized health management models, chronic disease management models, and customized health management services.
In conclusion, NB-IoT is suitable for immobile IoT equipment with low traffic density and low power consumption, and can satisfy most IoT usage scenarios. NB-IoT solutions can satisfy the requirements of the majority of IoT terminal equipment. With the ongoing commercialization of NB-IoT, 2018 is expected to be the year for NB-IoT’s dominance. The corresponding hardware requirements will be sensor modules combined with NB-IoT modules, which will subsequently be integrated into application processes.