NB-IoT is Essential to 5G LPWA
NB-IoT, an IoT technology based on licensed spectrum, can quickly provide massive IoT connections on existing mobile hardware. With the evolution of 3GPP standards, NB-IoT will co-exist with 5G NR and have access to 5GC in R16. That means NB-IoT will provide IoT connections in low-power and wide-coverage area (LPWA) for 5G, like warehouse management in the industrial control IoT scenario and utility connection in the massive IoT scenario. All this is attributed to NB-IoT capability enhancement, large-scale NB-IoT deployment, maturity of industrial chain, and more vertical market engagement.
To satisfy the requirement of 5G IoT deployment in LPWA, it is necessary to enhance capability of NB-IoT technologies. This involves data rate enhancement, capacity enhancement, mobility enhancement, capacity estimation, and intelligent operation and maintenance.
Data Rate Enhancement
A new device category, Cat-NB2, was defined in R14 to support larger TBS, and dual HARQ to allocate two data blocks one time. Thus, a single user speed is improved significantly up to 158 kbps in the uplink and 103 kbps in the downlink. That means NB-IoT has the ability to replace GPRS.
Multi-carrier was introduced in R13 and was enhanced in R14 with random access and paging supported in non-anchor carrier. Multi-carrier can provide larger capacity for diverse NB-IoT applications in an area with different intervals and traffic models.
According to field tests, with mobility enhancement defined in R14, NB-IoT services can be operated as normal in low and medium speeds. From stable to moving scenarios, NB-IoT technologies can be used in smart wristband, bicycle management and smart logistic. ZTE has been the first vendor in the industry to verify these features. To provide higher network performance, ZTE has also developed innovative solutions for NB-IoT capacity estimation and intelligent operation and maintenance.
After a deep research on NB-IoT large capacity with different traffic models, ZTE has rolled out a unique NB-IoT massive-connection and multi-service virtual-verification platform (NMVP) solution. NMVP makes it easy to simulate field services, estimate the quality of E2E services, and plan the networking. In the case of shared air-conditioner at the University of Shanghai for Science and Technology, NMVP was used to simulate and analyze user experience. In another case of meter reading of shared water heater in Guangxi University of Technology, NMVP played an important role in network capacity improvement and application process optimization. With the NMVP solution, operators can deliver better E2E IoT services.
Intelligent Operation and Maintenance
ZTE has been actively engaged in intelligent operation and maintenance of NB-IoT networks. Through the measurement reporting mechanism, the estimated value of downlink signal measurement can be reported accurately. This provides a reliable data analysis basis for network optimization. Northbound interfaces are also provided to realize the primary management of massive terminal access. With sustainable evolution of NB-IoT capability, NB-IoT network can meet requirements of diverse applications and massive connections in an easy and fast manner.
Large-Scale NB-IoT Deployment
As a preferred technology for operators, NB-IoT has been widely and rapidly deployed. According to the statistics released by GSMA in April 2019, a total of 148 operators worldwide are actively engaged in building NB-IoT networks. In the past nine months, the number of commercial networks has rapidly increased from 59 to 98. ZTE had deployed more than 350,000 NB-IoT sites in over 20 countries and regions around the world. Gartner predicts that by 2023, the total number of NB-IoT hardware deployments will be close to one-third of all global IoT deployments. The active participation of operators has promoted the incubation of NB-IoT applications and the creation of new business models.
Maturity of Industrial Chain
The NB-IoT industrial chain has developed rapidly in the past two years. 25 Cat-NB1/Cat-NB2 chipsets are provided by MKT, Unisoc and Qualcomm, and more than 100 modules are ready. In China Mobile’s centralized module procurement last year, the price of most NB-IoT modules was 20 to 25 yuan (about $2.8 to $3.6). As the price is lower than $5 expected at the beginning, the NB-IoT industrial chain is maturing and the devices will explode.
More Vertical Market Engagement
With the maturity of NB-IoT industrial chain and the enhancement of network capability, more and more vertical industrial providers are engaged in NB-IoT. Differentiated and diverse NB-IoT applications are being introduced. Besides traditional smart meters, there are also a variety of applications such as smart smoke, gas, temperature and humidity monitoring, sharing appliances, and so on. At the same time, the mobility enhancement and positioning of NB-IoT makes it possible for smart logistics, smart wristband and smart warehouse management. Therefore, in an area, there are many kinds of NB-IoT applications that are deployed or being deployed, and the distribution of some applications is irregular and variable.
As NB-IoT applications grow, their traffic models are constantly optimized, and different industry standards are gradually taking shape. Recently, Haier, a home appliance company, has released industry standards for shared air conditioning systems with partners such as ZTE and China Telecom. This accelerates the development of the IoT ecosystem.
5G is coming, and there will be more abundant IoT applications in diverse scenarios. To lay the foundation of IoT, NB-IoT plays an important role in 5G IoT and is being used to deploy high-quality network to promote the development of IoT applications. Based on the LPWA ecosystem formed over NB-IoT, 5G IoT is going to provide us with more convenient and comfortable services.