With narrowband the path to IoT is wider 

July 27, 2017 // By Kashif Hussain
If Machina Research, and countless other analyst firms are right, and the number of IoT connected devices grows to something like 27bn by 2025 – then the networks available to carry all the data they will produce are going to need a whole lot more capacity, and quickly.  

Of course, there is no shortage of work taking place within standards bodies such as the 3GPP as they try to figure out the best way to service the anticipated explosion in demand. And maybe unusually – at a time when businesses demand, figuratively speaking, ever wider bandwidth for data – one of the technologies being considered to fill that IoT gap is narrowband radio. 

One factor at play here is that respected firms like Machina Research also estimate that 11 per cent of these IoT connections, around 3 billion devices, will need the type of Low-Power, Wide-Area Networks (LPWAN) that are ideal for narrowband communications. With that in mind, the attraction of the technology and the level of interest in Narrowband IoT (NB-IoT) becomes clearer. 

But that is not the whole story. Because in truth, the interest in NB-IoT goes much further than the suitability of the air interface. In fact, narrowband has a range of deployment options, device advantages, and long-term security benefits that other competing technology approaches, particularly the use of unlicensed spectrum, just cannot match.

The first version of the NB-IoT standard was published in June last year, as part of Release 13 of the global 3GPP standard. At the same time, the 3GPP also released a pure LTE-based solution for IoT termed LTE-M. 

But it’s my view that there are some significant advantages to NB-IoT that will make it a better solution for the efficient use of the spectrum and of other network resources. In particular, NB-IoT is very well placed to deliver on some of the key requirements of an efficient IoT – namely device battery-life and cost, radio coverage, and network support.

NB-IoT could enable sub-$5 devices with ten-year plus battery life, could cope with devices being situated in remote rural or basement locations, and could support as many as 50,000 devices from a single cell tower.  But even that’s not the full story behind the interest in NB-IoT.