NB-IoT Basics

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Ever since the advent of wireless communication, the sender/receiver of data has been a human being i.e. the creator and consumer of data has been a human being. But now all that is changing. Due to advances in the technology, machines can now not only communicate with each other without human intervention, but also consume and process that data to serve a purpose.

What is MTC?

MTC or Machine Type Communication is the technology which has unleashed this potential. Using low-throughput and low latency radio access technologies, machines can communicate with each other in real-time. The data generators are usually sensors incorporated in embedded systems and they send the sensed data to servers where it is processed and also saved in cloud. The servers can also give commands to actuators which are a part of the said embedded systems.

Multiple use cases for machine-type communications have been developed with products like sensors, actuators, meters (gas, electric, water, or parking), cars, appliances, etc. in mind.

The need for IOT

The Internet of Things (IoT) is the technology which will enable devices distributed over different networks to communicate with each other. These networks may have different design objectives. For e.g. some networks are only intended to cover local area (e.g. one single home) whereas some offer wide-area coverage.

The IoT devices can have a wide range of features and requirements. The devices used for fleet tracking will have to evaluate only a small amount of data while performing many handovers, whereas devices such as surveillance cameras will have to deliver a large amount of data in uplink while being almost stationary. Yet another class of devices can have some other capabilities: devices for reading meters of water, electricity and gas consumption are mostly stationary (thus they have no need for handovers), and they send only small amounts of data, which is not even delay-sensitive, due to the large time period they use in transmission. However, the number of this kind of devices can be quite huge, even up to a very high order of magnitude if we consider a dense urban scenario. Due to this huge number of required devices, they have to be in low cost range. Moreover, these MTC devices are often placed and installed without power supply: they need to run completely on battery, and the battery lifetime has to be sufficiently extended in order to guarantee an adequate working time for the devices. In fact, changing the battery may be very expensive and in some cases, the battery lifetime is often the lifetime of the whole device. So optimized power consumption becomes essential for proper operation.

Driven by the growing number of mobile users and by the application of technologies based on the use of realtime information, smart devices are being developed. IoT is poised to open a huge number of opportunities for a large number of innovative applications with the ability to improve our life quality. Leading enterprises are discovering great opportunities to use highly connected devices to improve business performances and to give customers more meaningful outcomes.

What is NB-IoT?

The 3GPP has specified a new radio interface, the Narrow Band Internet of Things (NB-IoT) to address the requirements of the IoT devices in Release 13.

The first 3GPP specification of NBIoT is focused on this class of devices. In this way, the following list of specific requirements for NBIoT can be described:

1. Minimization of the signaling over the radio interface;
2. Improvement of battery life by minimizing the power consumption;
3. Support of both IP and nonIP data transmission;
4. Improvement of the system security.

NB-IoT is a new RAT type which has the following features:

  •         Improved indoor coverage
  •         ultra-low device cost
  •         support of huge number of low throughput devices
  •         low delay sensitivity,
  •         Low power consumption of device and optimized network architecture.

Although NB-IoT was not designed keeping backward compatibility with legacy LTE technology as a target, still some of its design features are derived from LTE and LTE-based enhancements for machine-type communications, e.g. LTE-M introduced in Release 12.

Salient features of NB-IOT are as follows:

  • Use of a narrow bandwidth (180 kHz)
  • Half-duplex operation
  • Discontinuous reception and transmission
  • Repetition in signal transmissions
  • Reduced subcarrier spacing option
  • Flexible scheduling of single-tone and multi-tone subcarriers
  • Flexible deployment options


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