Final NB-IoT Standard Paves Way For Mobile Networks To Connect The IoT

3GPP finalises NB-IoT, allowing operators to connect devices with less power and greater range

Narrowband IoT (NB-IoT), a single cellular low power wide area (LPWA) standard for the Internet of Things (IoT), has been finalised by the 3GPP, paving the way for mobile operators to connect M2M devices efficiently and cost effectively.

Operators and equipment manufacturers, most notably Huawei and Vodafone, have expressed their frustration at a lack of progress, claiming that without standardisation, cellular technology will be too power hungry and expensive for IoT, paving the way for Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and proprietary technologies like Sigfox to take control.

“It’s an opportunity that we think is absolutely purpose fit for operators,” Luke Ibbetson, Vodafone’s head of research and development told the Huawei Mobile Broadband Forum in Hong Kong last year. “But we’re under pressure because we quite frankly don’t have a solution in the right shape. We’re having to turn down perfectly good customers.

NB-iOT standardisation

Huawei Vodafone NB-IoT Lab (9)“For once we’re not looking for the finest engineering solution, we’re looking for the right one for the market at the right cost. We’re encouraged 3GPP is on the path to standardisation and we will have a flavour of the technology by the end of December, [but] we’re close to losing patience.”

It is claimed NB-IoT is able to provide a battery life of ten years, costs $5 per module to deploy and has scalability, while at the same time providing the range of a cellular network. Many IoT devices are expected to be deployed away from mains electricity and it is simply not feasible or cost-efficient for the battery to be replaced frequently.

But following standardisation, only backwards compatible changes to Nb-IoT will be made, meaning operators can invest in the technology. Huawei and Vodafone have held water metre trials in Spain and have opened a joint-innovation lab in Newbury, Berkshire.

“Mobile operators have already started a number of pilots around the world and this agreement over common standards will help accelerate the development of commercial solutions and ensure they are in market much faster, providing customers with more choice,” said Alex Sinclair, CTO of industry body GSMA.

Despite concerns from operators that standardisation has taken too long, the 3GPP is pretty pleased with itself.

“It took us only 9 months to standardize the new technology after the study phase,” boasted Dino Flore, chairman of 3GPP RAN. “Once again 3GPP demonstrated the ability to quickly respond to the emerging market needs.”

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