What is NB-IoT and how does it work?

Growth forecasts for the Internet of Things, IoT, indicate that its development will be unstoppable. However, this technological advance is challenged by the need to service ever-increasing hyper-connectivity. In response to this challenge, NB-IoT technology has been developed. What is it and how does it work?

Narrowband-IoT or NB-IoT wireless communication technology is specifically designed for IoT device communication in rural and hard-to-reach areas.
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According to Cisco’s Annual Internet Report 2021 by 2023 there will be 29.3 billion connected devices and 5.3 billion internet users, or 66% of the world’s population. These figures are in addition to those published by IOT Analytics, which points out that in 2025 the global number of connected devices will grow by 9% to 27 billion connections.  

This translates into an increase in the number of connections executed, so network carriers will have to invest to provide an infrastructure to support the ever-growing demand. In addition, both users and businesses are increasingly dependent on devices and connectivity to carry out daily tasks.  

In this context, users, businesses and other public and private organisations will demand ever faster connection speeds. To meet this need, technologies have been developed such as 5G, NB-IoT, and NarrowBand-IoT.  

What is NB-IoT? 

The NB-IoT network is part of the LPWA (Low Power Wide Area, low power, narrow bandwidth, wide area networks). The aim of this mobile technology is to address the different connectivity needs as it is specifically designed for the communication of devices of the Iot devices and supports equipment with low data transfer volumes over long periods of time, especially in hard-to-reach locations. 

This network technology was developed by 3GPP to provide connectivity solutions for the growth of IoT, in what is called extended Machine Type Communications (eMTC), and offers stable network coverage with high connection density. NB-IoT has the ability to seamlessly connect to established mobile networks.  

Since 2016, NB-IoT has been a standard for wireless communications that can efficiently exchange small amounts of data to multiple devices, minimises power consumption and increases the range of coverage in locations that do not have conventional mobile technology.   

How NB-IoT technology works  

The NB-IoT network is based on existing LTE Technology. This mobile communication system offers connections with less interference and good coverage, as it can operate on frequencies not used by existing communication networks.  

These connected systems are composed of devices and sensors designed to collect information from the environment and transmit it to base stations or NB-IoT nodes. One of its advantages is that, because it is designed to operate with very low transmission power, IoT devices have a much longer battery life because their power consumption is low and their coverage is very wide (some experts talk about theoretical global coverage).  

In addition, it is a low-cost technology, which allows many small businesses and public organisations to have access to long-range coverage. In this way, even rural and hard-to-reach areas can be connected to a large number of IoT-connected devices.  

A mobile network for remote areas  

From the arrival of the 2G network and the switch from analogue to digital, thus introducing roaming and SMS messaging, in the 1990s to the implementation of the fourth generation and the take-off of technology for Internet-connected devices, the technological leap experienced was unimaginable when it started in the 1980s with the deployment of the 1G network.  

NB-IoT and LTE-M technologies now offer increased transmission capacity in mobility to meet the emerging needs of the IoT. Although the speed of data reception and transmission is slow compared to the 5G network, it offers reliable data transmission, security and energy efficiency.  

What are the differences between NB-IOT and LTE-M? 

Both NB-IoT and LTE-M technologies are good connectivity alternatives as they are designed for IoT applications. However, they differ in their bandwidth, data rate, coverage and energy efficiency. Depending on the application and the specific requirements of the device, one technology may be more suitable than the other network.  

Of the two standards, NB-IoT is less powerful in terms of speed, data transmission capacity and mobile support. It is primarily designed for situations where there is no need for high-demand mobile communication, and applications requiring low-speed transmissions and small amounts of data, while LTE-M can handle a wide range of IoT applications, from low-speed, low-power devices to high-speed, high-bandwidth devices. LTE-M is therefore a better option for densely populated urban areas where there is a higher density of base stations, and although it still consumes very little power, it is not as efficient as NarrowBand-IoT.


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