NB-IOT vs unlicensed LPWAN

One of 3GPP’s chief low-power, wide-area (LPWA) technologies under development is NB-IOT (narrowband IOT) . Many have been speculating over the differences between NB-IOT and the current LPWAN technologies in the unlicensed frequencies such as LORA, Weightless-P, Sigfox, RPMA. Some individuals have even gone as far as saying NB-IOT will be the death of LPWAN technologies. But that is likely not going to be the case as there will always be a huge difference in use-cases of licensed and unlicensed technologies. The best analogy is WiFi (unlicensed) vs 4G (licensed). The business models and use-cases built around WiFI and 4G are “night and day” .

NB-IOT may not be as robust as we are expecting it be. Check out the following features that are likely to be a slight let-down to NB-IoT enthusiasts

1.No full acknowledgement: By design (found in 3GPP Specification TR45.820) NB-IOT is planned to only acknowledge 50% of messages serviced by the wireless technology. This is due to limited downlink capacity. Unlicensed technologies like Weightless-P allows 100% full acknowledgement of every message. If every message is of high value, you will need to know if your messages are successfully sent/received via an acknowledgement.

 

2. Long Latency: Transmit packet aggregation from buffering of messages and data. NB IOT will not be able to support “real time” responses therefore not suitable for time sensitive applications.

3. IoT devices in the network will not be the priority. The licensed spectrum is EXPENSIVE. Ingenu mentioned “$4.6 billion in a recent auction for only 20 MHz of spectrum!” IoT traffic will always come second to high profit margin, cellular traffic.

4. Long battery Life? The actual battery life will remain unknown until the Cellular LPWA networks are commercially available.

5. Availability: NB IOT is a technology that will be ready a few years down the line.

6. Compatibility: NB-IOT will differ across regions and carriers. Huawei initially pushed for a clean slate NB-IOT technology that would not be backwards compatible with 4G etc. This actually makes a lot of sense as it would be eliminating a lot of the unnecessary overhead.  But just as Huawei began making progress, Nokia and Ericsson began insisting on building upon the frameworks of LTE which means significantly more complexity and unnecessary overhead. Not a very nice foundation for such a huge project.

 

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