NB-IoT in 2019: What is it and What Can We Expect?

Digital Matter Support

We’re keeping a close eye on the development of NB-IoT technologies this year. Here’s where we are in 2019.

First, what is NB-IoT?

Narrowband IoT, or NB-IoT, is a standards-based LPWA technology developed by the 3GPP to enable a diverse range of IoT devices and sensors.

NB-IoT improves device power consumption significantly, offers great range and indoor penetration, with the relative ease of deployment in the existing spectrum, and on existing base station hardware.

What are the Differences Between LTE Cat M1 and NB-IoT?

Both are cellular standards, but they are being adopted and rolled out quite differently (see Deployment Status below). Technically, M1 offers a noticeably higher bandwidth, which means a faster connection. Compared to NB-IoT, M1 has less range, less indoor penetration, and is less power-friendly.

Let’s discuss some of these NB-IoT benefits and a few drawbacks that aren’t often mentioned.

The backing of GSMA and Cellular Networks

We’re often asked a basic question: how do you choose between Sigfox, LoRaWAN, or CAT M1/NB-IoT?

The friendly answer is that each has a use case, and each serves different markets.

The real answer is far more harsh – we expect the mass market to use cellular networks because they have far greater reach and resources compared to Sigfox and LoRaWAN. M1/NB-IoT is likely to have greater coverage in many regions within the next 12-24 months.

Sigfox and LoRaWAN do have a head start in most markets, but we don’t expect this to last. Sigfox and LoRaWAN are lower power than the cellular options, but with that comes less flexibility for things like firmware downloads Over The Air (OTA). Time will tell, but Digital Matter is investing heavily in CAT M1/NB-IoT capability.

Deployment Status of NB-IoT

As of March 2019, we’ve rolled out many more CAT M1 devices compared to NB-IoT devices. The network deployments of CAT M1 by AT&T and Telstra are the main drivers of CAT M1 success so far. The networks work well and coverage is good and reliable.

NB-IoT is proving to be slower. We have connected to NB-IoT networks successfully in South Africa (Vodacom), Australia (Telstra), Belgium (Orange), and Netherlands (T-Mobile).

No Mobility for NB-IoT

One of the major drawbacks of NB-IoT is the lack of cell mobility. An NB-IoT modem cannot maintain connections across base stations. This feature will come in a later version of the 3GPP standard, but release 13 does not support it. This means that NB-IoT is currently NOT suited for traditional vehicle tracking. Our Dart2 and G62 devices don’t make sense on NB-IoT networks. CAT M1 does support cell mobility, so they work very well on those networks.

NB-IoT networks DO work well with our battery-powered devices: Yabby, Oyster2, Remora2, and Falcon. When uploading, these devices open and close connections almost immediately, so cell mobility is not an issue. We have found that eDRX and PSM features do not yet lead to power savings over establishing and tearing down a connection on each upload. This is based on practical measurements, and we hope that these features will become more useful in the future.

OTA Updates

Over The Air, updates are a big win for CAT M1 and NB-IoT* over Sigfox and LoRaWAN. An NB-IoT firmware download of about 100KB can take up to 10 minutes, but it is possible! This means in-field device feature improvements, bug fixes, and settings changes.

UDP vs TCP

UDP and TCP are networking schemes for transferring data. Both schemes work over NB-IoT**, but UDP is favored because of the reduced overhead for sending small amounts of data.

Digital Matter devices currently use a TCP protocol. It is very interesting to analyze the bytes sent over the air. To deliver a single message, say 64 bytes of GPS data, TCP can blow out to 10 times this with message overhead and retries. Digital Matter is keeping a close eye on the NB-IoT market and will optimize the data transmission when the market requires it.

* Some cellular networks may restrict data to the point where firmware updates on NB-IoT are not feasible
** The data overhead of TCP may be too large for some NB-IoT networks.

Related Articles

NNNCo and Digital Matter Partner to Bring Reliable Asset Tracking to Australian Businesses

Nnnco And Digital Matter Partner To Bring Reliable...

August 25, 2020

Digital Matter’s long-life battery-powered GPS tracking devices now N-Tick Certified, fully integrated with N2N-DL Dat...

Read more
Icom Australia and Digital Matter Introduce Bundled LTE Two-Way Radios and GPS Tracking to Enhance Staff Safety and Communication

Icom Australia And Digital Matter Introduce Bundle...

August 19, 2020

Icom’s LTE Radio System now fully integrated with Digital Matter’s Telematics Platform; enabling critical staff loca...

Read more
What is GPS? A Back to Basics Refresher

What Is Gps? A Back To Basics Refresher

August 13, 2020

Is it just us, or are there too many tracking-related acronyms flying around the Internet these days? Here's a quick ter...

Read more
Understanding Cellular IoT Connectivity in GPS Tracking

Understanding Cellular Iot Connectivity In Gps Tra...

August 12, 2020

Learn more about Cellular IoT in the age of 5G, the difference between LTE-M and NB-IoT Networks, and which is better su...

Read more
Digital Matter and Helium Announce Partnership to Simplify Asset Tracking via Nationwide Peer-to-Peer IoT Network

Digital Matter And Helium Announce Partnership To ...

August 03, 2020

Digital Matter’s long-life battery-powered GPS tracking devices now fully integrated with The People’s Network; enab...

Read more