For the last couple of years, u-blox has cooperated with Vodafone and Huawei to develop and demo the new Narrowband IoT (NB‑IoT) technology. NB‑IoT is an emerging Low Power Wide Area (LPWA) technology that works over existing cellular infrastructure. Providing a simple means of connecting devices that send and receive small amounts of fairly infrequent data, NB‑IoT enables coverage in hard to reach places, as well as support for high numbers of low throughput, ultra-low cost devices.
As it stands, the NB‑IoT standards are nearing completion, a feat that has been achieved in record time. Only in September 2015 did 3GPP agree a common approach for NB-IoT deployment of LPWA networks using the licensed operator spectrum, and release of the standard is expected by June 2016.
Notably, a short development time doesn’t mean a half-baked standard. NB‑IoT is well defined, with a lot of work having taken place to guarantee low device power consumption and an optimized solution architecture - both key to the ultimate success of NB‑IoT. Leading lights behind the NB-IoT Forum have placed high importance on testing NB-IoT technology in real-world scenarios, such as the successful demonstration in Spain in November 2015 when the first pre-standard NB-IoT message was sent to a u-blox module installed in a test device located in water meter locations
Water meters are the perfect example of a host of monitoring devices that involve hard-to-reach locations. For example in basements, underground or behind metal covers, where no mains power is available and where typically other types of signal would be unable to reach. Other applications range from building automation, people and animal tracking, to ‘smart city’ technologies, where NB-IoT could help local government control street lighting, determine when waste bins need emptying, identify free parking spaces and survey road conditions. Battery life of 10 years and more will be expected from all these devices. u-blox labels these kinds of applications as the ‘Internet of Things that Really Matter’ i.e. business-critical applications with good business reasons for adopting this technology.
Take our Waste Management Route Optimization demo for Mobile World Congress 2016, for example. The system brings together pre-standard NB-IoT with u-blox Bluetooth low energy enabled sensors and Bluetooth/Wi-Fi IoT gateway module, supported by an ARM mbed application environment and a cloud based analytics. The system detects when bins are opened and closed, and are thus full or empty, and communicates this via NB-IoT to the cloud. The optimal route for a waste collection vehicle is then calculated, thus minimizing route distance and reducing fuel costs, carbon emissions and the duration of a waste collection.
In a bid to bring NB-IoT rapidly to commercialization, a number of mobile operators and network infrastructure providers are creating ‘NB-IoT Open Labs. Providing the right environment for the creation and support of an NB-IoT eco-system, the NB-IoT Open Labs will facilitate end-to-end development and interoperability testing for application developers, systems integrators and services providers. u-blox’s NB-IoT evaluation kits and modules are being made available to the Labs.