Currently, the Internet of things (IoT) is one of the most development-focused technologies. It is a network formed by different devices (”things”), which are able to collect data about the environment in which they are inserted and Exchange this information with each other or with a data center.
IoT opens up many interesting possibilities, especially for industrial sectors, with factories that can receive intelligent machines or sensors that make their pre-existing equipment part of an IoT network — allowing machine monitoring. In addition, sensors on pallets or in boxes monitor storage time and conditions, such as temperature, as well as the location of items.
However, one of the big headaches for anyone who is going to implement an Internet of Things system is choosing which communication system to use. The communication system is the network that connects the “thing” to the system on which it will collect the data or send commands. The first decision is whether the network will be wired or wireless.
Wired networks work well, suffer less from interference and can have a very high communication rate, but have a high initial cost and are not very flexible for modifications. Each new device connected to the network will need an extra cable and a strategy to pass it through the factory.
Therefore, the most popular choice is to use wireless networks, in which we find several technologies for use in IoT. Something common among them is the need for gateways (points of concentration) to receive connections and manage data traffic on the network — such as routers, in the case of Wi-Fi networks.
Among the choices of wireless networks, one technology emerging to serve the IoT market is Narrow Band IoT (NB-IoT), or narrow band Internet of things, which promises to reduce the design and management work of the wireless network.
What is NB-IoT
Narrow Band IoT (NB-IoT) is a new wireless communication standard. It was introduced in Release 13 of 3GPP and that is part of the specifications of 5G technology cellular networks. In release 13, networks formed by low-complexity devices, such as IoT sensors and actuators, using small frequency bands (200 kHz) and low communication capacity (in the kbps range) were defined.
This means that NB-IoT uses the existing cellular network. However, there are different types of NB-IoT, which are defined according to the use of the frequency bands of the cellular network. The three types of NB-IoT defined by 3GPP release 13 are:
- Standalone-uses frequency bands not used by the current cellular network;
- Guard Band-occupies a small band on the side of the cellular channel spectrum;
- In-Band-allows a small frequency range in the available spectrum of cellular network conduit to be reserved for communication with IoT devices.
Of these 3, In-band is the model that has the least impact on the current network, since it can use the equipment already installed in cellular networks, requiring only software updates. The other two models will need updates to the hardware of the stations and will not be covered in this text. The choice of which model will be used will depend on the standards of the country and how the operators will implement the system.
Benefits of NB-IoT
The main benefit of NB-IoT is that it is part of the new specifications of cellular networks. As a result, any cellular station of any cellular carrier will allow connections with NB-IoT devices, without the need for gateways — as is the case with other solutions for wireless IoT networks. In this way, the IoT device connects directly to the cellular network, simply having coverage of a station to work.
In industry, the use of NB-IoT reduces the costs of designing and implementing a data network for IoT devices, as the network is already ready and maintained by the carrier. Since a single base radio station can support up to 50,000 device connections, NB-IoT becomes a great choice for situations where it is necessary to connect multiple devices that collect smaller data, as is the case in different industries.
This simplicity is part of the 3GPP specification, which was made in order to ensure low complexity of the devices, leading to a reduction in costs and energy consumption. NB-IoT devices have simpler and cheaper radios, due to the low communication speed and amount of data they exchange, such as telemetry and simple controls. Since manufacturing often collects these types of data from its equipment and inputs, NB-IoT can be a very interesting option to introduce monitoring to factory environments.
NB-IoT technology, the new wireless communication standard, is a part of 5G designed for low-complexity devices such as sensors and trackers. Due to their low complexity, these types of devices tend to have low costs.
In addition to using more affordable equipment, NB-IoT is part of the specification of cellular networks. In this way, the part of connection management and control of traffic NB-IoT data uses the already installed network of cellular operators and will be available anywhere with normal cellular coverage.
Thus, the cost of implementation is reduced from a system of NB-IoT devices, since we no longer have the design and deployment of a communication network between the devices. This will already be ready in the network of operators, as long as IoT devices have the ability to connect to this system.
These features of NB-IoT networks, added to the low costs of their devices, open possibilities for the adoption of IoT solutions of tracking and monitoring in a simple, fast and affordable way.