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NB-IoT - A Simple Introduction

Updated: Mar 2, 2022

NB-IoT, or Narrow Band-Internet of things, is a communication standard designed to let the IoT devices operate via a carrier network. In general terms, it refers to the interconnection amongst various devices or sensors that use the GSM spectrum to exchange data. NB-IoT is an LPWAN (Low power wide area network) technology that does not require ‘gateways’. The sensors can directly communicate with the carrier. Before getting into the details of how and what of Nb-IoT, let’s understand IoT and LPWAN.

Internet of Things (IoT): -

This can be defined as the network of devices. They may or may not be connected via the internet, but they can analyse, compute, and transfer data over the network without any active human or computer interaction.

LPWAN, or Low Power Wide Area Network

LPWAN connects devices over large areas and offers communication characteristics such as long-range communication at a lower bit rate, low cost and greater power efficiency (low power). LPWAN supports many devices over a wide area compared to cellular services and thus has gained popularity in almost every field. LPWAN is incredibly suitable for IoT applications where one needs to transmit a limited/small amount of data.

There are LPWAN technologies developed mainly by cellular operators under the auspices of the GSM Association and within the 3GPP consortium. Such LPWAN technologies are NB-IoT, LoRa-Alliance, Sigfox, where NB-IoT belongs to the licensed frequency band, and the rest use unlicensed frequency bandwidth.

Sigfox was developed in 2010 by the start-up Sigfox (in Toulouse, France). It is both a company and an LPWAN network operator.

LoRa, first developed by the start-up Cycleo in 2009 (in Grenoble, France). Purchased by Semtech (USA) in 2015 and standardised by LoRa-Alliance.

Narrow Band-Internet of Things: is a radio technology standard to enable a wide range of cellular devices and services developed by the 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP). This technology co-exists with the Global System For Mobile Communications (GSM) and Long-Term Evolution (LTE) under licensed frequency bands (e.g., 700 MHz, 800 MHz, and 900 MHz). But NB-IoT limits the bandwidth to a single narrow band of 180kHz and the bit rate to 150-250kbps.

Why narrow-band?

  • Require less operating power.

  • Ideal for shorter-range/fixed location wireless application over shorter distances.

  • Lower probability of overlap with any interfering signals.

NB-IoT supports a huge number of devices, especially constrained devices that face serious limitations such as battery life, network coverage, processors and many more. But do not have a huge demand for bandwidth or can suffice with low latency. As this utilises the existing mobile network and covers all the bands of GSM, any area with the mobile network can have NB-IoT, like unconnected machines, industrial IoT machinery, sensors etc. It is also ideal for systems with high device density like deep indoors, underground, parking lots etc. With NB-IoT, the following operation modes are possible, as shown in

Stand-alone operation: utilises GSM frequencies bands.

Guard-band operation: utilizes the unused resource blocks within an LTE carrier’s guard band.

In-band operation: utilises resource blocks within an LTE carrier.

NB-IoT focuses specifically on indoor coverage as it is suitable for a high volume of low complexity devices in challenging radio environments. It actively supports smart lighting, parking, alarms, even detection, security sensors, Asset management and many more.

Also, it has a long list of remarkable features that make it stand apart from other similar technologies.

Features of Nb-IoT:

  • Low processing power/ultralow power consumption.

  • Maximum payload length/higher data rates.

  • Higher spectrum efficiency.

  • High-Density Network.

  • Improved coverage.

  • Low bandwidth.

  • Mobility.

  • High Scalability.

  • Longer battery life.

  • High-Security Level.

  • High interference resistance.

  • It can co-exist with 2G, 3G, 4G and is an integral part of 5G.

  • It can send signals with lower power to a more extended range.

  • NB-IoT has no duty-cycle limitation operation on a licensed spectrum.

  • Suitable for high-volume of low complexity devices in challenging radio environments.

  • High connection density allows connectivity of up to 100 K end devices per cell compared.

In the automotive industry, NB-IoT can be used in telematics devices. OEMs can integrate data loggers that can be used to collect key data to help them study the usage pattern, which is helpful in warranty claiming.

NB-IoT technology uses specific band antennas or multiband antennas, which receive signals from the vehicles installed with NB-IoT modules. These modules and peripheral devices(like sensors) can be easily connected to communicate with the host (microprocessors or microcomputers). The Communication base station receives signals from the vehicles, which it transfers to the NB-IoT core network. There the data is processed for the node to application or application to node and monitored. With NB-IoT, the data charges are minimal, so the OEMs can deploy these devices in large volumes. Every production vehicle could have the capability to share critical information with a central server. NB-IoT can be highly beneficial in vehicle-to-vehicle communication by enabling the collection of information about the speed and position of surrounding vehicles intending to avoid accidents, ease traffic congestion, making positively impact the environment.

The table below will help you understand NB-IoT in comparison to LoRalliance and Sigfox.

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