How Narrowband IoT (NB-IoT) Widens LPWA Applications along the Internet of Things

Posted by on December 13, 2017 at 5:00 AM Carmi Brandis  
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Imagine a network built to span an entire city, operate without interruption, and connect devices both indoors and outdoors. All of this is possible with narrowband IoT (NB-IoT), a new standard for low power wide area (LPWA) networking. NB-IoT began development within 3GPP in 2015, a consortium of telecommunications companies dedicated to improving communications technology and ensuring network capabilities throughout the world. Now, the connection type stands to expand the LPWA market, making IoT more accessible to manufacturing industries, research communities, and local governments.

Going the Distance with LPWA Narrowband IoT

Like other forms of LPWA networks, NB-IoT is known for its efficiency and reach. It requires limited power to transmit signals over massive distances, and RCR Wireless estimates that a single battery could support an NB-IoT signal for up to a decade. Because NB-IoT signal transmission can last so long on a single battery, the standard also makes IoT more accessible to network managers previously reluctant to invest in IoT because of high costs and the need for constant maintenance. Today’s NB-IoT devices can be placed almost anywhere, including difficult  to reach spots such as the undersides of bridges, the side of a dam, or locations deep within wetland environments.

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NB-IoT’s reach further enhances the ability to expand networks out to remote sites previously thought off limits for IoT connectivity. And its ability to pass through dense materials impenetrable for other cellular and Wi-Fi signals makes it ideal for networks that span an entire geographic region with indoor and outdoor nodes linked. Antenova M2M writes “devices hidden behind several layers of brick can achieve connectivity” with NB-IoT, allowing it to be deployed across “tunnels, sewage networks, underground, or in rural areas”.

Taking LPWA to the Next Level

For those wondering how NB-IoT compares to other forms of LPWA networking, the standard does share some familiar commonalities. For instance, NB-IoT only can send and receive a few kilobytes per second. Users hoping to extend the battery life of their transmitters out to a full decade will need to keep data transmissions at the lower end of NB-IoT’s capability for efficiency. However, NB-IoT can support up to 250 kilobytes uplink and downlink. While this may not seem like much data, it is perfect for most M2M uses, as well as long-term monitoring IoT applications that only send out a few bytes of data per day.

While other forms of LPWA still are largely dependent on LTE infrastructure for support, IoT for All notes that NB-IoT can be deployed on its own, across “unused 200 kHz bands that have previously been used for GSM (Global System for Mobile Communications)”, or along LTE base stations that dedicate “a resource block to NB-IoT operations or in their guard bands”.  In layman's terms, this means that NB-IoT networks can work on their own or with existing infrastructure. How? As the name implies, Narrowband-IoT only uses a relatively narrow bandwidth — about 180 kHz for downlink and 180 kHz by 3.75 kHz or 15 kHz according to RCR Wireless.

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RCR Wireless adds, “Increased coverage enables operators to deploy cellular IoT technologies in the existing LTE base station grid, achieving ‘deep in-building’ coverage without, or with reduced, additional indoor cell and DAS deployments. [The] target is to provide sufficient coverage for smart meters and other IoT appliances that typically are located in basements and deep in building locations.” The variety of coverage options allotted to NB-IoT provides some flexibility when designing NB-IoT networks. That means that the standard could be deployed across rural areas around the globe without much LTE infrastructure.

Flexible Applications for Governments, Scientific Research, and Manufacturing

Because of its flexibility and reach, NB-IoT offers the best connection choice for a variety of use cases. Municipal governments hoping to monitor efficiency, functionality, and sustainability factors across a range of services might deploy an NB-IoT network to monitor their public services. For instance, a single NB-IoT monitoring system for water storage, sanitation, distribution, and reclamation within a county or city would be an excellent demonstration of this new network’s capabilities.

Likewise, long-term field studies of natural resources, animal behavior, or pollution could be tested through NB-IoT networks owned and monitored by universities or conservation nonprofits. Although the kinds of questions that can be studied with NB-IoT are limited to fairly simplistic elements, such as yes/no queries, threshold monitoring, and change detection, enough data points across a single network would allow for a more complex analysis than one might initially suspect.

Potential industry applications should not go ignored either. Mining sites, oil and gas exploration, and chemicals manufacturing plants all may want to consider NB-IoT deployment to enhance safety and monitoring capabilities. In 2017 alone, the Mine Safety and Health Administration reports that 14 individuals were killed in coal mining accidents while another 12 died in metal and nonmetal mining facilities. With NB-IoT monitoring to test for mine shaft air quality, mine stability, and equipment performance, future deaths could be prevented or reduced.

Aeris Solutions for NB-IoT Deployment

Aeris provides customized LPWA networks for clients around the globe. We can work with almost any data requirement to plan and set up your network anywhere in the world. Working from your team’s plans, we build networks that work to support your organization's goals and can even offer consult and recommendations on IoT device selection and performance.

When setting up LPWA networks, we offer a variety of connection types but would highly recommend NB-IoT to any team needing long-term reliability and extensive reach from their network. Ready to get started? Contact us today!


Topics: LPWA, low power wide area network, IoT power consumption, narrowband IoT, NB-IoT, IoT battery