We show what you need to know about the Narrowband IoT radio standard and what applications it offers in practice. […]
When the LTE / 4G mobile standard was launched, many asked about use cases and sales. Today, the situation is reversed: the use cases are there and “scratching their hooves” for connectivity. But until the successor 5G is widespread in the area and is used, it will still take a little time as of 2021; full coverage is unlikely to take place for cost reasons. NarrowBand IoT (NB IoT) is-at least for some IoT scenarios – a clever alternative. And since the technology is economical in terms of energy, quickly and cost-effectively available and has good radio characteristics, NB IoT remains attractive even if 5G is available nationwide.
NarrowBand IoT-also known as LTE Cat NB1-is a wireless technology based on established standards that comes from the Low Power Wide Area Networks (LPWAN) family. The concept was based on the idea of networking devices or sensors that are widely distributed and/or difficult to reach, for example. A look at this” specification ” already shows that the technology is intended for use in environments that would be difficult and therefore expensive to achieve with conventional mobile communications.
Despite this distinction, NB IoT can be seamlessly integrated into existing mobile networks, as it is based on appropriate and existing technology. Commissioning is even possible without hardware updates. Interested parties can cooperate here, for example, with the mobile service providers who each offer corresponding solutions. Since the network operators themselves can generate additional revenues and find comprehensive IoT scenarios, such offers are available-especially since they are relatively easy to implement for the mobile service providers because of the relatively low effort.
One of the key advantages is certainly the range, or the good penetration of structures such as buildings; even underground, the use of NarrowBand IoT is possible. The low hardware costs also suggest that the technology should be considered in IoT projects. Chips and modems are available from the Eurocent to the single-digit euro range. The scalability, which is technically secured by corresponding standards, makes it possible to use up to 100,000 devices within an existing radio cell. Established encryption secures the applications.
In addition to the relatively simple implementability mentioned, the energy-saving device connections have already been mentioned. The basis for this is the optimization for the transmission of small data packets, as they cause the typical devices – such as sensors. Combined with powerful batteries, periods of use of up to ten years are provided.
Connected, self-driving vehicles, smart cities, wearables, Industry 4.0-the list of conceivable use cases with NB-IoT contribution is extremely long. A central topic, however, is certainly the smart city including networked and autonomous mobility and, in the expansion, smart metering and energy management. From the point of view of end consumers, this complex could be summarized under the term “smart living”.
The opposite is a “Smart Industry”, which includes intelligent agriculture and Industry 4.0 including machine-to-Machine (M2M) as extensions; of course, the Smart City also offers a B2B perspective. What all these scenarios have in common is that the NarrowBand IoT and its devices provide the input – this data is worth nothing without appropriate services or intelligence. The fact that NB IoT can also be used to make data that is otherwise difficult to obtain – it is worth remembering the building penetration – urentable does not change this.
On the contrary, more and more devices that reliably and long-term feed data make their use all the more valuable. Consequently, all the advantages of the cloud also apply in an IoT extended by NarrowBand. With the increasing number of end devices to be integrated in this way, edge computing approaches can, for example, become even more important for companies and their business models; the “outsourcing” of certain parts of the services, or the intelligence including processing in the vicinity of the devices can certainly have its charm. This is especially true for areas where latencies are critical, such as autonomous driving.
It is crucial that companies design their business models in such a way that they can really combine all the advantages of NarrowBand IoT technology with those of the cloud and make the most of them. Therefore, there should be no false sense of honor at this point to want to do everything in-house. The involvement of mobile and cloud experts in projects makes perfect sense in order to identify all possibilities and their benefits.
Of course, this also applies to a conceivable “maximum expansion stage” of NB IoT, namely in conjunction with a high degree of automation, Robotic Process Automation (RPA) and artificial intelligence (AI). Here, too, the credo is that a plus of data is a valuable input for an AI. Those who recognize the right use cases and services and transfer them into a functioning paid business model can work out massive competitive advantages: The AI building blocks can increase efficiency on the one hand and make completely new approaches feasible on the other hand, a double lever.
To make the whole thing a little more tangible: Automated parking could be such a highly automatable activity that can be converted into sales, from recommending a parking space to the driver and the parking process itself to billing, for example, with a municipality or a municipal utility – if the right data is available. Concrete walls in the underground car park no longer have to be an obstacle. Thanks to NarrowBand IoT.
* Dr. Robert Laube is Head of Cloud infrastructure and application development at Avanade in Germany, Austria and Switzerland. For more than 20 years he has been advising national and international customers in the field of modern software engineering, analytics, and cloud. He is an expert in artificial Intelligence (AI), Robotic Process Automation (RPA) as well as IoT and the innovative possibilities that open up in the field of Industry 4.0 in conjunction with the cloud.