T-Mobile has rolled out what it says is the first nationwide narrowband Internet of Things (NB-IoT) service. The company says its NB-IoT network covers almost 2.1 million square miles and about 320 million people. In addition to being the first carrier to launch in the United States, the NB-IoT network, introduced on July 19, is also the first such service to launch worldwide with guard bands, according to T-Mobile. Guard bands are unused areas of the spectrum that insulate one signal from another. They let T-Mobile gain more efficiency when using spectrum resources and enable IoT applications to avoid interference from other data traffic.
“NB-IoT is a means through which information can be communicated between a sensor and the wireless network utilizing a low-power wide area network [WAN],” David Mayo, Senior Vice President and 5G & IoT Business Chief at T-Mobile, told PCMag.
IoT and Mobile Bandwidth
IoT refers to a new internet frontier; one that extends beyond standard computing devices to connect a fast-growing array of smart hardware. That list includes everything from smart home products, like home security or robot vacuums, all the way to connected cars and even more advanced machines, such as factory sensors, smart city infrastructure, and much more. The key to all this tech involves connecting the physical world to the mobile world using the internet. That’s where NB-IoT comes in, according to Mayo.
NB-IoT is Low-Power WAN (LPWAN) tech that is Long-Term Evolution (LTE)-Advanced and built on a standard called the 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP). Through 3GPP, several telecommunications standards organizations work to develop network systems from 3G to 5G. With 5G IoT, businesses and consumers will be able to lower power usage, get longer battery life, and reduce their device costs, Mayo said.
In January 2018, T-Mobile introduced its NB-IoT plan, which costs $6 per year. For this price, T-Mobile offers up to 12 megabytes (MB) per connected device. In January 2018, T-Mobile introduced its NB-IoT plan, which costs $6 per year. For this price, T-Mobile offers up to 12 megabytes (MB) of data per year for each connected device. T-Mobile says this amount of data, like a sensor for food temperature or a street light sensor, is sufficient for intermittent updates.
Last year, Ericsson and T-Mobile tested NB-IoT in Las Vegas and the trial used just 200 kilohertz (kHz) of T-Mobile’s spectrum on Amazon Web Services. As carriers prepare to roll out 5G, questions remain about the tech and its uses and economics. But that’s not slowing down makers of mobile networking infrastructure. Even as particulars of the standard are still in question, companies such as Qualcomm have already released 5G modems they hope to bring in compliance with the final spec once it’s complete.
“NB-IoT really gives developers the opportunity to expose new use cases because of the low-power requirements and battery life capabilities,” Mayo said. He added that battery-powered NB-IoT devices could last up to 10 years instead of three to six months. NB-IoT systems can power asset tracking systems, home alarm systems, telematic devices, and smart utility meters. NB-IoT could be used to monitor the amount of fuel left in a tank of gas, an electricity meter in an office building, or a generator in a building, Mayo said. Cellular devices with NB-IoT tech, such as the Samsung Connect Tag, can even be used as a fob that lets you keep track of kids, pets, or valuables.
T-Mobile brings NB-IoT connectivity to Category M1 (Cat M1) modules. Cat M1 are LTE chipsets geared toward sensors. Mayo says the wireless modules from suppliers, such as Quectel Wireless Solutions, will operate on T-Mobile’s NB-IoT network. The Quectel module will incorporate a Qualcomm MDM92606 IoT modem, and Nokia and Ericsson will host the radio frequency tech for the NB-IoT network.
NB-IoT connectivity can bring safety and compliance to areas such as fleet management, energy utility monitoring, and waste management. Other potential use cases include reducing traffic congestion and improving food safety. You can have a sensor that can sense moisture content in the soil or the volume of water in a drainage ditch, Mayo noted. “The possibilities that can be done with nationwide IoT are endless,” he added.
Mayo noted that NB-IoT can provide an alternative to home Wi-Fi networks that may fail from time to time. NB-IoT could even connect a home sprinkler system.
Top Fleet Management Software
How Will Pervasive IoT Affect the Rest of the Internet?
Gamers don’t fret. All of these IoT devices on NB-IoT are unlikely to affect traditional internet bandwidth in the short term since the IoT apps involve “monitoring, command, and control,” said Rob Enderle, Principal Analyst at The Enderle Group.
“Initially, the data usage is so small that it should drop into the noise,” Enderle explained. “Problems could occur if, say, an entire city was to flip to this suddenly, but they’d likely be transitory rather than catastrophic.”
For the long term, the industry will need to boost the number of cell towers, according to Enderle. “Ten years from now it should be significant, and given that traffic will aggregate at cell towers first, it will likely mean they’ll have to increase the number of them to cover the traffic.”
T-Mobile Connect Will Bring IoT Players Together
Through a program called “T-Mobile Connect,” T-Mobile will enable development and commercialization of IoT solutions at an accelerated pace. Later in 2018, T-Mobile will announce specific products that will operate on the NB-IoT network.
“We’re building a portfolio of products that we will bring to market,” Mayo said. “They ladder up under the Connect program, and those products will be principally targeted in the enterprise and small to medium-size business segments and government, too. Over time, it will evolve into consumer-based products.”
Other carriers also have NB-IoT rollouts in the works. Verizon says it will construct a nationwide NB-IoT network of 2.56 million square miles by the end of 2018. As part of its testing, Verizon used Ericsson’s Massive IoT software. In addition, AT&T will launch an NB-IoT network in the US in early 2019 and Mexico in late 2019.
However, T-Mobile is making the most active headway in the NB-IoT space, according to Enderle. “They are, by far, the most aggressive, which is consistent with their general approach to the market, and they [will] likely scare the crap out of AT&T and Verizon,” he said.