NarrowBand IoT (NB-IoT) is a Low Power Wide Area Network (LPWAN) radio technology standard developed to enable a wide range of devices and services to be connected using cellular telecommunications bands. It has been designed for the Internet of Things (IoT) and is one of a range of Mobile IoT (MIoT) technologies standardized by the 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP).
The NB-IoT specification was frozen at Release 13 of the 3GPP specification (LTE-Advanced Pro), in June 2016
Previsions says that several billions of IoT devices will be deployed in the next few years and many of these will use licensed spectrum access. Wireless network vendors and operators are making significant investments so that they can manage this huge number of new devices, but how do they know that they can fulfil expectations? Moreover, how do companies deploying IoT-devices know that the networks deliver the performance operators claim, or that operators fulfil their service level agreements?
While there is a lot of marketing material discussing the use cases and high level technology comparison, there is not much available on how the overall LTE network architecture would be after NB-IoT upgrade. While many people is thinking that “NB-IoT is just a software upgrade of LTE”, the reality is different. It is not just an IoT platform and software upgrade but deployment of a new NB-IoT Core, eNB upgrade, OSS upgrade and procurement of new eSIM platform.
This means that form an MNO side there will be a lot of work to do in order to Deploy, Optimise & Offer the service to their customers.
Why This Attention on NB-IoT
First of all coverage: existing cellular networks already offer very good area coverage in mature markets. However, many potential “connected objects” are located in vast remote areas, far away from the next cellular base station. If there is coverage, it is often weak which requires the device transmitter to operate at high power, draining the battery. In addition, cellular networks are not optimised for applications that occasionally transmit small amounts of data.
A battery life of several years combined with an inexpensive device cannot be realised on existing cellular standards, as they do not support the required power saving mechanisms
Finally, the device cost is another important and focal point about this new growing technology
How can NB-IoT be verified?
As always, to verify a new radio technology, it is a must to perform field tests. Any MNO needs something that can both represent a typical deployed device and which can also provide radio measurements & signaling analysis in a “Thing Perspective“
Anyway, measuring coverage it is not the solution. In fact, the signal coverage itself it is not the unique parameter to look at.
Signal quality, block error rates, latency & throughput are also important. These parameters can give the real picture of any network coverage and measure the possible applications performances.
Naturally, these are not just correlated with received signal quality but also with how the network is configured and deployed. MNO will need to evaluate several parameters to determine coverage accurately.
What MNO needs, to test such environment, is a skilled team with dedicated instrument that can support testing & allow them to analyze the cause of an issue when it occurs. Furthermore, the instrument to use has also to cover an extensive range of parameters and measurements that reveal the true performance of the network.
Boston Consulting Group predicts that by 2020, €250B ($267B) will be spent on IoT technologies, products, and services. The greatest two sources of revenue growth in the IoT market will be from services and IoT applications investment.
MNO can than propose different IoT setups accordingly to their strategy:
- Sell Connectivity: the Internet of Things requires a reliable connectivity and any MNO can theoretically just sell it. Of course, there are more business opportunities as just to engage in connectivity. In fact, MNO revenues can grow using the existing sites and introducing various use cases:
- Smart Electricity Metering
- Smart Water Metering
- Alarms in SingleFamily Houses
- Motor Vehicle Tracking
- Connected Street Lamp
- Connected Blood Pressure
- Meter Smart Gas Metering
- Sell NB- IoT as a Service: Carrier grade solutions with security, billing, big data integration and QoS assurance allow the creation of new businesses and improvements to existing ones on a solid technological basis
NB-IoT Network as a service is supporting the global trends of network virtualization and cloud based service provision
- End to End service provision: Operators may choose to extend into the E2E service provider domain for specific IoT solutions, but this needs careful planning, technology and business partnerships with players in the industry, including outsourcing and revenue sharing models