The NB-IoT Standard – Key Challenges & Opportunities for the Internet of Things

September 3, 2018

In recent years, the Internet of Things has revolutionised how you connect and communicate. In no time, you will live in a world that is managed in an efficient and modern way. Life will not only become convenient but will also have answers to the most complex concerns. Imagine having a smart application that reminds you to drink water frequently. Imagine a device that can automatically detect tyre air pressure in your car and send you instant notification on under-inflation.

All these, and much more, will now become a reality with the Internet of Things. The below image indicates the future of IoT:

(Source)

The future seems bright while the latest technology advancements further pave the way for IoT implementation across various sectors such as Health Care, Agriculture, Home Automation etc.  

NB-IoT is one such avant-garde upgrade that has opened up new possibilities for seamless IoT deployment.

Imagine connecting with devices that are located in places that have poor network. What if you want to send small amount of data over long distances? How about connecting thousands of “things” without having to worry about the bandwidth and interferences? NB-IoT is the answer to these challenges.  

Why You Need NB-IoT?

With over 10 standards already in place to facilitate low-power applications in the field of the Internet of Things, the question arises why we need another one?   

Narrow Band-IoT was rolled out in 2006 with the objective of catering to ever-growing number of connected “things” in the realm of IoT. Some of the biggest advantages that NB-IoT provides are:

  • It is a 3GPP-standardised, cellular LPWA solution that has the support of an established network ecosystem
  • Rapidly and seamlessly deploy and scale up IoT applications in diverse sectors
  • Ensures lower deployment cost per device
  • Empowers devices with 10-years power backup on a single charging cycle
  • Backed by strong authentication and secure connectivity
  • Enables capacity growth with network scalability
  • Facilitates optimised and secured data transfer

Key Challenges  

A ‘game changer,’  NB-IoT adds flexibility, cost-effectiveness, security and high-performance in IoT implementation.

At the same time, there are several challenges that operators need to address.

1) Coverage: The NB-IoT standard is capable of providing maximum coverage of 23 dB as compared to LTE. However, in reality, it may be less depending on the method of deployment and configuration. One of the biggest limitations of NB-IoT coverage is that it depends on the field performance of the IoT devices and commercial network equipment, network design & configuration, and interoperability between the devices. So, the real coverage gain may be compromised.

2) Complexities of Deploying NB-IoT within Legacy LTE Networks: The NB-IoT devices can be deployed within any existing LTE system that allows mobile operators to make the ideal choice that suits their network scenarios. However, it also presents a technical challenge – the narrowband signal holds 180 kHz or one Physical Resource Block (PRB) within the broadband carrier. The difference in frequencies can produce internal interference between two PRB elements.

3) Limited Network Capability: Another challenge in NB-IoT deployment is ensuring the network’s ability to cope with the expected volume growth in connected devices. Often, operators do not have strong network capabilities that can withstand the surge. In this scenario, they have to modify their current business models and networking system completely, which can be a costly affair.

4) Battery Life: NB-IoT provides the maximum battery life of 10 years, which is the best in class till date. However, network coverage impacts battery life considerably. In poor coverage areas, you may have to send data multiple times. This means longer IoT modem duty cycle and higher power consumptions. Inappropriate network implementation or network configuration also causes similar challenges.

All the above and many more such challenges from operators’ perspective pose even more challenges for the IoT device manufacturers who need to ensure that their devices are deployment ready and are selected by operators to overcome various known and unknown issues in the field. Before evaluating themselves in the operators’ network, these device manufacturers will have to ensure their products / modules are deployment ready by validating for below known challenges:

  1. These devices are deployable in a LTE network and have optimized field performance in < 23dB power network coverage
  2. Devices are validated for their power consumption & battery life in a poor network or a noisy network coverage
  3. NB-IoT devices can interoperate and compatible in different regions e.g. India, China, Africa, NA etc
  4. Devices can perform in multiple modes of deployment i.e. standalone, in band, guard band. Suitable for all operators across various regions
  5. Devices are verified for different use cases of its applications e.g. meter, sensor, alarm etc by sending actual traffic

Device manufacturers need to validate their modules for above challenges and many more such validation cases before facing operators’ network. This is possible if they plug in these devices in a simulated NB-IoT network and run a set of standard validation test cases to ensure the features, functionality and performance. Simnovus Tech brings such validation lab facility at its Customer Experience Centre in Bengaluru.

Overcome NB-IoT Challenges with Simnovus Network Simulator

To cope with the challenges of NB-IoT implementation, Simnovus Network Simulator provides high-end testing capabilities that help validate functionalities, features and performance of IoT devices. It verifies inter-PRB interference, all bands & bandwidths, multi deployment modes, IoT services & use cases and focuses on compliance aspects for seamless NB-IoT signals and applications.  

Key capabilities of Simnovus Network Simulator are:

  • Simulate entire LTE network along with the IoT platform
  • Recreate network based on any FDD or TDD band
  • Supported on both Over The Air (OTA) and RF cables
  • 3GPP Release 14 compliant
  • Support of Cat NB1, NB2, M1 and LTE devices
  • NB-IOT operation modes: in-band, guard band and standalone
  • Power Saving Mode and eDRX support
  • Control Plane Optimization and Robust Header Compression (RoHC)
  • RF coverage: 70 MHz to 6.0 GHz
  • Bandwidths: 1.4, 3, 5, 10, 15 and 20 MHz
  • Seamlessly simulate the LTE network with eNodeBs, EPC and IoT Platform
  • Serves up to 1000 connected devices per sector

All IoT manufacturers deserve to capitalise lucrative opportunities that IoT offers by ensuring the compliance and overcoming the challenges of NB-IoT with help of Simnovus Network Simulator. To know more, please visit www.simnovus.com

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