Industry-wide discussions to develop telecommunications standards for NB-IoT have been completed early. Once finalised the standards will enable operators, chipset creators and manufacturers to develop and connect new generations of products using existing mobile network infrastructure.
Earlier in 2015, Vodafone led a study of different alternative technologies. Then in September, the specification process for NB-IoT formally commenced in the radio working groups within 3GPP, the global telecommunications standards organisation.
The radio working group (RAN 1) was asked to evaluate two variants for the uplink and two variants for the downlink. Following extensive work by Vodafone and many other companies this study successfully concluded one month early.
The result was publicly supported by 29 companies and shows that the 3GPP ecosystem is fully aligned on a single, harmonised NB-IoT standard.
The 29 supporting companies were: Vodafone; Alcatel-Lucent; Alcatel-Lucent Shanghai Bell; AT&T; CATR; CATT; CEWiT; China Mobile; China Unicom; China Telecom; Deutsche Telekom; Ericsson; HiSilicon; Huawei; IITH; Intel; LG Electronics; Mediatek; Neul; Nokia Networks; NTT DOCOMO; Panasonic; Qualcomm; Reliance-Jio; Samsung; Telecom Italia; u-blox; Verizon; and ZTE.
The key characteristics of the technology standards agreement are:
the downlink will use a 180 kilohertz (kHz) Orthogonal Frequency-Division Multiple Access with twelve 15kHz subcarriers;
NB-IoT technologies will have an uplink ‘single tone transmission’, which is key to optimised battery life and deep in-building coverage; and
they will have an uplink option of ‘multi tone transmission’ to enable higher data rates for good coverage.
This agreement has enabled the technology to meet all the key objectives of Low Power Wide Area (LPWA) technology. As a result there will be a standardised global LPWA service for the first time. LPWA objectives include a battery life beyond 10 years, ultra-low device cost and network deployment via software upgrades and without base station site visits.
The NB-IoT standards will be published as part of 3GPP's Release-13 set of specifications in early 2016.
In a related development, Vodafone recently organised a meeting to prepare for the launch of the ‘Narrow Band IoT Forum’. The meeting included multiple network operators, equipment providers, chipset and module makers.. The Forum, which will be hosted by the GSMA, is aiming to kick-start the ecosystem for NB-IoT by enabling proof of concept trials, industry demonstrations, support for developer communities (via the availability of Internet of Things open labs) and certification / interoperability testing of NB-IoT devices. Luke Ibbetson, Vodafone’s Director of Research & Development, agreed to chair the Forum. The Forum will formally launch early next year.
As the world leader in Machine-to-Machine services Vodafone will stay at the forefront of driving the development of NB-IoT in order to benefit our enterprise and consumer customers and to help develop many new market segments.
Chris Pudney is Head of Architecture and Radio Access Standards for Vodafone Group. He has been engaged in the design, development and standardisation of Vodafone's cellular networks for more than 20 years. Siva Subramani is a Standards Strategist for Vodafone Group. He is responsible for managing the NB-IoT standards project.
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