Why Narrow Band IoT can help the ever growing concept truly take-off

We all know that the Internet of Things (IoT) is the hot topic in the tech world today. From smart homes and connected cars, to intelligent systems in the healthcare and retail sectors, IoT promises to deliver a great deal to both consumers and businesses alike. However, for the phenomenon to become a success, the pioneers leading the development of the concept must ensure they have all the tools and knowledge they need for it to truly take-off. It’s not as easy as simply adopting IoT technology, working with device manufacturers and offering a brand new package to end users. With the thousands of dedicated IoT networks being deployed, operators need to address the inevitable security and capacity issues in connecting them to the core network. Standardisation and deployment costs should also be considered, and one such technology network operators are looking to adopt is Narrow Band (NB-IoT).

NB-IoT is essentially a standardised cellular technology running on existing operator networks, optimised to unlock the capabilities of IoT. It’s generally recognised as a Lower Power Wide Area (LPWA) solution. The huge scale at which it’s being adopted by network operators is highlighted by the fact that analysts are predicting that there will be around three billion LPWA connections by 2023 [i]. So what benefits does this bring for operators?

The answers are clear. NB-IoT will vastly improve indoor coverage; support a massive number of low throughput devices; provide low delay sensitivity; ultra-low device cost; low device power consumption and optimised network architecture. It can work alongside 2G, 3G and 4G mobile networks with it being supported by all major mobile equipment, chip set and module manufacturers. Based on 3GPP standards and operating in a licensed spectrum, it ensures stability, reliability, and security in the future. NB-IoT trialling is taking place, with pre-commercial launches planned later this year and commercial launches scheduled to take place globally in early 2017, according to the GSMA, which says it will be addressing the LPWA IoT market opportunity using a licensed spectrum with the intent to launch commercial solutions in 2016/17 [ii].

The applications areas for NB-IoT vary from industry to industry. Due to the fact they are usually placed in locations where mobile connections are weak, NB-IoT is ideal for smart gas and water meters. With the ability to deliver deep indoor penetration, it can provide a strong, reliable connection where mobile reception might be poor. The meter can also be read remotely. Smart Cities can too benefit from NB-IoT. Lamp posts fitted with appropriate modules can be controlled remotely, and set off an alarm if they malfunction. Car parking and waste disposal facilities can make use of the technology in a similar way. Away from the city, NB-IoT technology can be used for monitoring livestock in farming. In rural communities where coverage is poor and there is no power supply, the health and location of livestock can be monitored and alert farmers to the spread of disease.

This is just a small snapshot of the benefits of NB-IoT but it’s now time for the industry to understand what’s needed to implement the technology. The initial costs of NB-IoT modules are expected to be lower than the GSM/GPRS devices of today and the underlying technology they use will be much simpler, known widely as ultra-low complexity. With this rise in the number of IoT devices and their potential capabilities, operators must know how to deal with the low speed, low volume, low cost IoT networks that will all need to be connected to the core network.

The underlying transmission protocols, SCTP (Stream Control Transmission Protocol) and GTP (GPRS Tunneling Protocol) have a crucial part to play here. By enabling GTP processing to be off-loaded, traffic capacity can be increased by accelerating data paths and removing bottlenecks, which in turn, accelerates the GTP tunnels and packet filtering. SCTP provides the secure authentication, redundancy and improved fail-over robustness, which will in turn deliver improved levels of reliability, performance and capacity. With SCTP authentication in place, operators can have peace of mind that their networks will be secure and ready to deal with the huge levels of traffic expected.

With strong predictions that NB-IoT will significantly improve the power consumption of devices, system capacity and spectrum efficiency, especially for deep coverage, at a low cost, operators need to be equipped with the correct tools to make sure it’s a true success. Launches of the technology are expected soon so now is the time for the industry to prepare and ensure everything is in place to cope with the undoubted high demand on the core networks from end users.

[i] http://www.iot-now.com/2014/11/25/27705-low-power-wide-area-lpwa-m2m-connections-will-top-3-1-billion-2023/
[ii] http://www.gsma.com/connectedliving/narrow-band-internet-of-things-nb-iot/