NB-IoT: FlexibilIty is key

Smart Solutions

NB-IoT: FlexibilIty is key

Outside views: Insights must be drawn from both internal and external data sets in order to provide true value. If you need global IoT connectivity for your devices and want to be able to change providers and services at will, you need to be flexible. Such flexibility is no longer a challenge with NB-IoT, a new wireless standard that works with all existing G3, G4, and G5 cellular technologies, which makes it ideal for the next generation of cellular machine-to-machine (M2M) communications.

by Chris Young

Many applications do not require high bandwidth or permanent connectivity. Often, devices need – to connect only from time to time to check in and send small data packets. This saves connection costs and valuable energy, enabling smart and affordable connectivity solutions with long battery life of up to ten years.

For this purpose, the wireless standard NB-IoT was created by the 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP), a collaboration between groups of telecommunications standards associations, known as the Organizational Partners. NB-IoT is a low-power widearea (LPWA) technology developed to enable a wide range of new IoT devices and services.

eUICC allows users to switch providers without physically changing the embedded SIM card itself.

Supported by all major mobile equipment, chipset, and module manufacturers, NB-IoT can coexist with 2G, 3G, and 4G mobile networks. The underlying technology is however much simpler than today’s GSM/GPRS and its cost is expected to decrease rapidly as demand increases. NB-IoT also beneffis from all the security and privacy features of mobile networks, such as support for user identity confidentiality, entity authentication, confidentiality, data integrity, and mobile equipment identification.

NB-IoT offers up to 250 kbps bandwidth and supports a particularly large number of connections per base station. NB-IoT further offers an additional 20-decibel link budget. Given the right infrastructure, this makes it possible to increase network coverage even in areas with previously poor coverage. It also boosts interference immunity and transmission quality – even for connections inside cellars. Compared to alternative LPWANs, NB-IoT allows significantly more data to be transmitted in the licensed band and provides higher bandwidth. NBIoT therefore addresses a much larger number of applications. In addition, the base station infrastructure for NBIoT is usually already in place as it can rely on existing mobile networks.

Info Graphic NB-IoT

A big step ahead in mobile technology: Standards-based NB-IoT offers signifcant improvements over existing technologies, such as extended range, lower power consumption, and easy integration.

To use them, all that’s typically required is a software update of the base stations. Only a few locations need an additional hardware upgrade that’s relatively easy to implement. The use of NB-IoT by major mobile operators is therefore expected to accelerate exponentially in the near future. Areas of application can be found wherever limited data rates, such as Sigfox LPWAN, which can send 144 messages per day at 12 bytes in the direction of the cloud, are no longer suficient. But even NB-IoT has its limits.

A valuable addition to NB-IoT is Cat M1. Like NB-IoT, this is a 3GPP Release 13 standard. It offers an even higher peak data rate of up to 1 Mb/s full duplex compared to NB-IoT and supports mobile solutions, something which NB-IoT cannot do because the network must establish a new connection after leaving a cell. Cat M1 further supports Voice over LTE (VoLTE), which may be of interest for IoT applications such as home care and elevator alarm systems, equipment access control and remote assistance solutions as well as ticketing systems and vending machines. Measuring 10 to 15 ms, latency is significantly lower here compared to NB-IoT, where values range from 1.6 to 10 s. Combining these two technologies with 2G EGPRS fallback for regions where NB-IoT has not yet been rolled out, multi-mode connectivity cards can be used to generate extremely high network coverage for the large number of mass use cases that benefit from many years of battery operation and do not require a constant connection at high data rates.

Mobile M2M applications, particularly those that are deployed globally, are flawed by the fact that the management of the SIM cards can be extremely complex, resulting in an immense administrative burden for large field deployments. However, a lot of the effort can be avoided by using Embedded Universal Integrated Circuit Card (eUICC)-compatible SIM technology. Dubbed the “next evolution of the SIM card,” eUICC offers users the ability to change service provider over-the-air (OTA), without needing to physically change the embedded SIM card itself. eUICC represents the most radical change in over two decades of GSM connectivity, in terms of how customers can select and change service provider profiles based on the criteria or business rules of their choosing. For global solutions, this makes it possible to quickly secure the right tariffs from one or more of the world’s 20 largest network operators – which according to Vodafone already service 90 percent of the IoT coverage area – and install suitable MNO profiles depending on the location of the device. Corresponding updates of all base stations provided, of course. Another option are global virtual network operators (VNOs) like Arkessa, especially if you want to use one provider for everything.

NB-IoT by Avnet

NB IoT The Avnet Silica Arduino shield

The Avnet Silica Arduino shield for NB-IoT, Cat M1, and EGPRS also offers optional geolocation, and can be equipped with eUICC SIM components or cards.

Avnet Silica has developed an application-ready Arduino-compatible board for this new performance class. Ardunio is a set of open-source computer hardware and software products that enable manufacturers to build digital devices and interactive objects that can sense and control objects in the physical and digital world through single-board microcontrollers and microcontroller kits. In addition, Avnet has created NB-IoT Sensor Shield, which makes it easy to optimize administration and maintenance tasks without having to buy additional Arduino shields. The NB-IoT Sensor Shield supports all popular operating systems such as Android, Linux, and Windows.


AVnet Silicon NB-IoT starter kit

The Avnet Silica NB-IoT Sensor Shield starter kit with X-Nucleo sensor board and STM32 Nucleo-64 processor board already has its own test cloud for evaluating connectivity.



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