Insights / Narrowband IoT
More and more things are being fitted out with M2M solutions and thereby made usable in a new way. Learn more about different key topics within M2M communication like Smart Cities or the Industrial Internet.
New M2M Technology: Narrowband IoT
NB-IoT is a new standardized cellular technology running on existing operator networks, optimized to enable the Internet of Things. With its unique capabilities it allows for a large number of low cost, low power devices with deep indoor penetration.
The Low Power Wide Area (LPWA) technology Narrowband IoT (NB-IoT) is one of the most widely discussed innovations in M2M communication for the Internet of Things. Analysts anticipate around three billion LPWA connections by 2023. For customers, NB-IoT enables new applications by providing a low cost, low power solution with wide area coverage and deep indoor penetration.
Based on 3GPP standard, uses existing operator networks
NB-IoT is designed for use where conventional M2M channels such as mobile networks, DSL, WLAN or Bluetooth are uneconomical or simply do not meet application requirements such as deep indoor penetration. The solution can be operated in existing operator networks. Based on 3GPP standards and therefore operating in licensed spectrum, it ensures stability, reliability, and security in the future.
Low power consumption, strong propagation, low device unit costs
Low power consumption and wide area coverage are two of the core features of an NB-IoT/LPWA network. To fulfill these requirements M2M modules are required to function independently of an external power supply. In addition, very strong propagation is needed to enable signals to penetrate into cellars or along channels. As they mostly transmit only small amounts of data, and often do so only once an hour or day, these NB-IoT modules have a long battery lifetime, working unattended throughout. With low NB-IoT device unit costs, using an M2M network is profitable for small and midrange businesses too. The potential uses are many and varied:
Smart Metering: NB-IoT for gas and water meters
One of the most suitable uses for NB-IoT is smart metering: gas and water meters, unlike smart electricity meters, are not connected to the electricity supply and are also often located in cellars where conventional mobile network connections are usually either weak or non-existent. Battery-powered NB-IoT modules need no power connection, deliver deep indoor penetration, and thereby establish a reliable connection even in areas where mobile reception is poor. The provider is able to read the meter remotely and the end customer does not have to stay at home in order to wait for the meter reader to come by.
Smart Cities: Connecting street lights and parking spaces
In Smart Cities, NB-IoT technology can be used in street lighting, for example. Lamp posts fitted with appropriate modules can be switched on and off or dimmed remotely and can trigger an alarm if they malfunction. If a city connects its parking spaces by NB-IoT, better use is made of free capacities. Motorists are directed by a smart parking guidance system to the nearest free parking space by the shortest route. In waste disposal, garbage cans fitted with NB-IoT modules alert a control center when they are full. As a consequence, waste disposal companies can optimize vehicle routes and reduce costs.
Transport & logistics: Container tracking and refillable tanks
In transportation and logistics very little information is often needed in very small data packets, and transmission must not even be in real time. So NB-IoT is a suitable low-cost solution. In container tracking, for instance, hourly notification of the container’s location is all that is required. For refillable tanks or bottles, industrial liquid or gas providers monitor levels, pressure and temperature as required. Railroad operators locate freight cars by NB-IoT.
Industry: NB-IoT on pallets and pipelines
There are industrial M2M uses for NB-IoT too, especially when the use of WLAN equipment for close-range transmission is not worthwhile. In warehouses, goods can be located and tracked if the pallet is equipped with an NB-IoT module. The result of this Industrial Internet solution is more efficient warehouse management. In order to monitor oil and gas pipelines, sensors relay important information about pressure, flow rate or possible leaks. There is often no external power source for pipelines in inaccessible areas. Here too, NB-IoT is a contender because modules have a long service life, require no maintenance and have a 20 decibel wider range than conventional mobile network connections.
Farming and forestry: Monitoring livestock
NB-IoT technology is also suitable for agricultural use where there is no power supply or where network coverage is poor. In irrigation of fields or plantations, tank levels, pump pressure and flow rates are measured. The location and health of livestock can be monitored too, thereby preventing inter alia the spread of diseases. In forestry, low-cost sensors can be distributed in large numbers in the woods to report information such as temperature, smoke development or wind direction.
Localization: NB-IoT for tracking
NB-IoT is suitable for locating pets or valuables. In order to not lose sight of a pet or an expensive bike, an NB-IoT module can be a low-cost alternative to a GSM tracker.
These examples prove that there is a strong demand for future-safe, reliable technologies like Narrowband IoT and that a new market with new business models is opening up for business enterprises.
Timetable for a new market
In cooperation with the GSMA, the global industry association of mobile network operators, and the standardization body 3GPP, Deutsche Telekom is working on taking development forward and defining uniform standards for NB-IoT/LPWA technology and networks.
“Our concern is with the introduction of cellular Internet of Things solutions based not on proprietary but on global standards.” (Bruno Jacobfeuerborn, CTO Deutsche Telekom AG)
In September 2015, the 3GPP members agreed on basic NB-IoT/LPWA specifications for existing GSM and LTE networks. In October, Deutsche Telekom became the world’s first network operator to carry out – jointly with the Chinese network supplier Huawei – a successful NB-IoT/LPWA trial in its mobile network. Standardization of the new technology has been finalized by the 3GPP by March 2016, followed by further trials and, from 2017, the first commercial applications that support international roaming are anticipated.