How Does NB-IoT Work?
In this post, we talk about Narrowband IoT, or NB-IoT – why it was developed, how it works, its benefits, its applications, and tips on NB-IoT deployment.
What Is NB-IoT?
Narrowband IoT, or NB-IoT, is a low power wide area network (LPWAN) radio technology. It was designed for cellular wireless communications using 3GPP (3rd Generation Partnership Project) protocols, which are standards followed by organizations that develop mobile telecom technologies. NB-IoT was designed to be used by a large number of low-complexity devices in far-flung areas and for use in hard-to-reach areas such as deep within buildings or underground – any place that presents access or connectivity challenges.
NB-IoT makes it possible for devices to be deployed in massive numbers, and with substantial savings in terms of maintenance and uptime. NB-IoT was designed to provide devices with a battery life of at least ten years; depending on your usage, your devices may run for longer or shorter than this time frame. Narrowband connectivity also provides coverage to a massively extended geographical area, which can be between 25 miles and 60 miles more than standard solutions. Over the years, NB-IoT has gained considerable traction in sectors such as logistics and fleeting management, smart metering, and asset management due in part to the rising demand for systems that provide long battery lifetimes, can effectively run on very low data usage, and offer a very wide coverage area.
NB-IoT has quickly become a leading LPWAN technology, providing connectivity to a wide range of new devices in the IoT sector. Some of the devices in use in this sector include smart wearables, smart parking devices, industrial equipment, and devices used in the utility infrastructure space.
The key benefits of the NB-IoT protocol are as follows:
- It is cost-efficient: Since NB-IoT provides low-power connectivity, it is cheaper to run than alternatives like LTE that consume more power per device.
- Very low device power consumption also leads to lower service and maintenance costs.
- NB-IoT provides great indoor coverage. This is important for devices that are situated deep inside structures, which is an important challenge to overcome based on today’s urban deployment of devices all across and within buildings, facilities, and underground networks.
- Rolling out NB-IoT on a licensed spectrum can boost connection reliability.
- It supports a massive number of connections per network cell – up to 200,000 devices in some cases.
- Network architectures in NB-IoT deployments are highly optimized. NB-IoT does not require a gateway to work and can directly connect sensors to a base station.
Understanding the NB-IoT Ecosystem
NB-IoT uses DSSS – or direct sequence spread spectrum modulation technology – for connectivity. This is a very flexible technology that can work with 2G, 3G, and 4G bands. With NB-IoT, there is no need for a gateway, which can save your business money in the long run. It is ideal for indoor coverage, supporting a large number of low throughput devices, and low device power consumption. Low delay sensitivity, ultra cost efficiency, and an optimized network architecture make it an attractive option for businesses and industries in need of specific IT connectivity solutions at the lowest cost.
Like LTE-M, NB-IoT can be used in-band. This means that it can be deployed within a standard LTE band or alone in a dedicated spectrum. Furthermore, NB-IoT can also be deployed in the guard band of an LTE carrier. Guard bands are used in bidirectional LTE connections as a buffer to reduce data transmission errors. They are an important part of ensuring the resilience and efficacy of two-way communications, but represent a loss of spectrum bandwidth. Deploying NB-IoT within this band can help reduce transmission costs for carriers or devices that already have or use a given radio frequency band.
NB-IoT chipsets and modules can be easily integrated into devices. In most cases, these devices are used in the utility space. They can be used to manage electric meters, parking meters, water meters, and streetlights. They can also be used in agriculture, supply chain management, and logistics. These modules and chipsets – sometimes referred to as a CSP or chip-scale package – are highly flexible and customizable integrated circuits. They can be embedded into IoT devices to provide them with additional functions such as radio connectivity, memory, and other industry-specific functions like GPS-based positioning.
A few things to note when operating an NB-IoT device are as follows:
- Chipset vendors provide their customers with various configurations that can support either local or international radio frequencies. Choose your CSP configuration based on your needs.
- Modem vendors combine chipsets with extra application processors, antenna technologies, memory, and more to match the needs of their clients. Choosing the right vendor who can quickly and cost-effectively produce what you need is an important part of your long-run IoT strategy.
- Cloud-based platforms can help add functionality to your devices via, for example, an over-the-air update that can optimize the commissioning and supervision of your devices.
- Service providers can certify specific devices for use with CSPs, allowing users to find compatible solutions for a wide range of use cases.
Business Benefits of NB-IoT
NBT-IoT technology uses a simple waveform, allowing the devices that use it to consume less power. Devices that use a 200 kHz NB-IoT frontend and a digitizer will enjoy lower complexity of analog-to-digital (A/D) and digital-to-analog (D/A) conversion, channel estimation, and buffering than similar devices on a higher band frequency. Through saving power, users also save on costs. Furthermore, NB-IoT chips are designed for use in IoT deployments, contrasting with LTE chips that are designed for higher data throughputs.
Power efficiency is a critical consideration for IoT deployments, especially when dealing with millions of devices connected to a single network. NB-IoT devices save power, are less complex than their LTE counterparts, and are designed to be energy efficient.
NB-IoT is superior to LTE-M1 because it has lower bitrates, leading to optimized use of your connectivity budget. NB-IoT also does not require a gateway to provide connectivity to sensors and devices. In addition, operation on a lower band provides a wider coverage area. Having fewer devices to manage per connection (just an end-device or sensor without an intermediary gateway) improves flexibility, speeds up deployment, and lowers the costs of operation.
By launching NB-IoT on a licensed spectrum, businesses can enjoy enhanced reliability for users. They can also optimize resource allocation based on predefined Quality of Service (QoS) parameters.
Narrowband IoT has a wide range of applications across many different sectors of the digital economy. Some of its applications include:
- Facilities management.
- Smart metering for gas, water, and electricity provision.
- Connected personal devices that are used for measuring health data.
- Intruder and fire alarms for both commercial as well as residential properties.
- Tracking packages, people, or animals.
- Connected industrial machines, such as welding machines, generators, or HVAC devices.
- Smart city infrastructure devices, such as streetlamps and garbage bins.
NB-IoT Deployment Tips
Before launching an NB-IoT initiative, as yourself the following.
- Are you an established enterprise that already works with connected devices, or are you looking to start your IoT network from scratch?
- What kinds of data do you need?
- Where are the devices that you will be communicating with located?
Here are a few tips to consider before deploying narrowband IoT as part of your overarching business strategy.
Eliminate Barriers by Establishing a Dedicated IoT Lab
Establishing an IoT lab or office will streamline your collaboration with device manufacturers, application developers, and other businesses in the digital space. Developing a partner network is important since it can help you deploy, maintain, and operate your devices to your desired expectations with help from external experts. Establishing a network via a dedicated IoT division will also help you develop standardized test cases tailored to your intended uses and you can also enjoy access to subject matter experts for troubleshooting purposes.
Change Your Mindset
By changing the mindset of the key decision-makers in your organization to embrace partnerships and share knowledge, new business opportunities will arise. If you can validate opportunities to ensure that the business use cases you wish to pursue are in sync with your goals, you can benefit immensely from market synergies.
Ensure that Your Business Case Works
To make changes in an existing industry or market using the Internet of Things, you have to first prove the business case. For example, the use of NB-IoT and Cat-M1 in smart metering revealed that cellular point-to-point connected smart meter solutions are better and more efficient than power line communication (PLC) or non-licensed radio frequency solutions for utility management. Only after such validation does it make sense to embark on a groundbreaking new initiative.
With the right partnerships, a positive mindset, and a dedicated team that can propel your IoT initiatives, you can make meaningful change in any industry or vertical.
Contact Us Today
We can help you be part of this new wave of change. Kajeet Solutions Engineers can help you plan, set up, and run an IoT program that not only secures your data and optimizes data usage across all aspects of your operations but is custom-built for the use cases you need to address. Whatever field or industry you operate in, we are here to assist. Contact us today for a consultation with one of our IoT Solution Engineer.