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Narrowband-IoT: connecting the 99%

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IoT Blog | June, 2017

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Jennifer Gill Didoni

Head of IoT Product Management

Narrowband-IoT: connecting the 99%

Jennifer Gill Didoni, Head of IoT Product Management, investigates why the arrival of Narrowband Internet of Things (NB-IoT) is the start of something big.

Connecting the world

What do a rubbish bin, a water meter and a smoke alarm have in common?

It’s not a trick question. The answer is that they’d all be made much more useful by being connected to the internet of things (IoT), but until now it’s been technically impossible (or at least uneconomical) to do so.

Connected to the IoT, rubbish bins could notify local councils that they need emptying; water meters could report on consumption and potential leaks; and smoke alarms could verify their status without manual testing. These are all useful functions that could save time and money — especially when you think that there are millions of these kinds of objects around us in our homes, workplaces, towns and cities. The applications go on and on: moisture sensors in agriculture; pressure sensors in gas tanks; burglar alarms; parking space monitoring.

The problem is that conventional IoT solutions are completely overkill for these potential use cases. A bin or a water meter or a house alarm doesn’t need to send lots of data; perhaps just a few bytes per day. Instead, they need IoT hardware and connectivity that is extremely low cost, lasts for years on a single battery charge, and can reliably connect even when they’re installed in objects in basements, rural areas, or underground.

Introducing NB-IoT

That’s where the idea of low power wide area (LPWA) comes in, and the technology called NB-IoT. It’s the key to connecting the IoT’s untapped 99% — the billions of objects all around us.

But what exactly is it? NB-IoT is a cellular radio standard, just like 3G and LTE, which we at Vodafone have participated in developing over the past couple of years, working with the 3GPP.

NB-IoT is specifically designed for the kinds of applications we’ve talked about, so it’s rigorously optimised for the best coverage and power efficiency. In fact, NB-IoT devices are expected to be able to operate uninterrupted in the field for ten years on a single charge.

Where NB-IoT stands out from other low-power radio technologies is that it uses licensed spectrum (like your phone does) instead of unlicensed spectrum (like a consumer walkie-talkie, for example). This means NB-IoT devices are much less likely to suffer from interference or usage restrictions. That’s not all — NB-IoT is an open standard, meaning it avoids the risk of obsolescence, and it can be delivered as a software upgrade to existing mobile operators’ networks, coexisting with 2G, 3G and 4G networks, without the need to put up new masts. Perhaps most importantly, NB-IoT offers all the same security features as standard 4G.

It’s happening now

So you can see why we’re really excited by the potential that NB-IoT offers, and are working so hard to get it out to market. We launched the world’s first live production NB-IoT network in Spain earlier this year, and have trials running in the Netherlands, Ireland, South Africa, the Czech Republic, Italy and the UK. We’ve committed to rolling NB-IoT out across our global networks by 2020.

We support the execution of this strategy with our own Open NB-IoT Lab. The Open Lab provides a simulated real time environment for application developers and device, module and chip manufacturers to test their products. This accelerates their time to market for NB-IoT devices and services. It also allows device manufacturers to verify that their products meet the exceptional sensitivity and battery life performance requirements for NB-IoT devices. We have very successfully launched NB-IoT lab in the UK and Germany and since this week also in South Africa. With tremendous backing from other operators and IoT hardware manufacturers behind NB-IoT, it’s well on its way to becoming the clear global standard for low-power IoT deployments.

We see possibilities for NB-IoT to add value in all kinds of businesses, across all kinds of sectors. If you’d like to discuss what it can do for you, why not drop us an email at iot@vodafone.com or to find out more about NB-IoT and its technical advantages, download our white paper.

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