GSMA, mobile operators gear up for launch of NB-IoT

Tuesday 23 February 2016 | 16:26 CET | Background

2016 will be the year of NB-IoT, according to network vendors. Existing LTE networks are being made ready for Narrow-Band IoT: a new wave of machine-to-machine applications with very low bandwidth. While relatively simple to implement in the network, the success will depend on the price of the IoT modems. The aim is to get to a price per unit of around USD 5, but this is still a ways off. 

The GSMA organised at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona the first NB-IoT Summit, an event sponsored by Huawei and attended by players including Nokia, Ericcson, Intel, Qualcomm and u-blox.

The NB-IoT standard is part of 3GPP Release 13 for LTE, expected to be ready in June. An important characteristic is the networks will be able to make do with 180 kHz of radio frequency, or even just 15 kHz. This contrasts greatly with the ever faster 4G networks.

The standard also offers much better coverage for many more devices. In practice a macrocell can be twice as big and handle tens of thousands of devices simultaneously.

The energy use by IoT devices is also a factor. The energy used in stand-by mode by a sensor on a M2M network must be as low as possible, a challenge that chipmakers such as Intel and Qualcomm are addressing.

This year it all should come together, according to Luke Ibbetson from Vodafone Group, the chairman of the GSMA IoT group. The networks, radios, chipsets, technology and applications are all in development. Vodafone is opening with Huawei an Open Lab to test the new products and services.  

However, the price of NB-IoT equipment still needs to come down. The industry is targeting a price of USD 5 per unit, but still is not there yet. More needs to be done to reach this price level, as many applications depend on a low cost.

Huawei is showing at MWC some of the new applications, such as a water sensor running on solar energy, together with a dosage system for irrigation. Also ready for use is a sensor that shows if a parking space is free. The hardware costs around USD 100, of which the NB-IoT module is just one component.

This year and next all the major operators will start offering connectivity over NB-IoT or Cat-M, another LTE standard for machine-to machine. With the help of the new technology, the mobile operators aim to compete with the emerging OTT players in the market.

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