How Low Power is NB-IoT?

nb-iot

NB-IoT is considered a licensed low power wide area networks (LPWANs) technology supported by your local telecom operator. That means each device requires a SIM card and monthly or annual payments to your operator just like your cell phone. The benefit is that you don’t need to manage the infrastructure; you do not need to install your own base stations.

The key advantage of NB-IoT is the protocol is synchronous and designed to optimize the spectral usage and throughput of the network. This optimization for spectral utilization comes at the cost of compromised battery life and recurring costs (monthly or yearly).

Unlicensed LPWANs, such as LoRaWAN® and Weightless™ are optimal for longer battery lifetime. If sensor data is small and infrequent (one or twice a day), LoRaWAN could be the optimal choice being an asynchronous protocol. If data is larger and data transmissions must be acknowledged then Weightless stands alone as the option for a synchronous protocol for private networks.

The effect of asynchronous versus synchronous protocols has significant impact on the battery lifetime of sensors.

Semtech conducted a comparison using the T-Mobile NB-IoT network available in the U.S. The NB-IoT sensor consistently took more than 20 seconds of active time to negotiate a slot to communicate an 11-byte packet. The average current consumption over this 20 second period was 40mA. In comparison, sending the same 11-byte packet over LoRaWAN required an active time of only 1.6 seconds, with an average active current consumption of 6.4mA. This translates into greater than 50 times advantage in battery lifetime for LoRaWAN.

Take an example application: wireless, battery powered, pushbutton. A LoRaWAN-enabled pushbutton and an NB-IoT pushbutton each were equipped with a 600 maH battery. The LoRaWAN device could support roughly 70,000 button presses on a single battery,  while the NB-IoT button could handle only about 2,000 button presses on a single battery. The difference is quite drastic.

When choosing a LPWAN technology, be sure to thoroughly review the application requirements. One size does not fit all.

 

 

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.