Approach to the new NB-IoT technology we are experimenting with at TST

NB-IoT stands for Narrowband for the Internet of Things, which is basically a new narrowband communications standard that is accelerating the adoption of the Internet of Things (IoT). At TST we have been experimenting with this technology for some time and we apply it in some of our projects.

Before moving forward with the description of NB-IoT we must stop at the LPWAN concept (acronym for Low Power Wide Area Network). These are wireless networks with very low power consumption but with a long-range at surface level. Although LPWANs cannot transmit large amounts of data, the few kilobytes they emit can throw them over long distances. Thus, these types of networks are ideal for connected and moving devices. In short, they allow the consumption of few data on a large scale and the possibility of implementing low-cost IoT networks.

An NB-IoT network is an LPWAN network, with the particularity that its use covers satisfactorily closed spaces or places of ‘deep coverage’. For example, it is especially useful in basements, meter rooms and also in locations with difficult power supply. Moreover, due to its low consumption, NB-IoT helps to maintain the life of the batteries for several years, allowing a large reduction in maintenance costs. NB-IoT, LoRa and Sigfox are the ideal technologies for working in these LPWAN networks.

NB-IoT was one of the first standard technologies designed specifically for IoT. Its standardization was completed in 2016. NB-IoT uses a radio technology standard developed by 3GPP (3rd Generation Partnership Project), a project which is driven by telecommunications associations in Europe, Asia and the USA. This means that it does not face the saturation problems that networks using free bands, such as Sigfox or LoRa (also ZigBee), can suffer. However, it is also worth noting that connections on unlicensed bands can be implemented faster and at a lower cost.

In general, within the LPWAN networks, and for the near future, we understand that it will be NB-IoT the one with better performance. Although it makes the network more expensive, its use of licensed spectrum makes it more efficient and versatile.

In Spain, the operator that has bet most on NB-IoT so far is Vodafone. Three years ago began its commercial deployment in several cities. In 2018 it carried out several pilots in the areas of water management, waste management, retail, agriculture, electricity and smart cities. It was also that year when the operator established NB-IoT roaming in Europe. The first roaming was performed between the networks of Vodafone in Spain and Deutsche Telekom in Austria, using global SIM cards with NB-IoT modules of each operator. Currently, Vodafone has NB-IoT network coverage in 90% of the national territory.

The implementation of this technology in Spain is being very successful in the field of water management. In this sense, the company Global Omnium, formerly Aguas de Valencia, manages the integral water cycle in 11 autonomous communities of Spain and in several countries in Latin America and Asia. Similarly, Canal de Isabel II is implementing intelligent remote meter reading using this technology.