u-blox’ first module for narrow-band cellular IoT, low data rate comms

June 27, 2016 // By Graham Prophet
Swiss company u-blox has set out the specifications of its forthcoming SARA-N2 Narrowband IoT (NB-IoT) module, calling it the world's first cellular radio module compliant to the 3GPP Release 13, Narrowband IoT (LTE Cat. NB1) standard.

NB-IoT will provide a low-data-rate service as an extension of existing cellular (LTE) services. It promises very high levels of coverage and of penetration – reach of signal into difficult, ‘deep-indoors’ areas; and low power, with (depending on duty cycle) 10-year-plus battery life. It will also be structured to be ‘cost-optimised’ according to u-blox, and will have the benefits of being a broadly-based industry standard, in licensed bands, with quality-of-service guarantees.


The u-blox module has been designed for applications such as smart buildings and cities, utilities metering, white goods, asset tracking, and agricultural and environmental monitoring, it will operate for between 10 and 20 years from a single-cell primary battery. Its 16 x 26 mm LGA form factor, using u-blox nested architecture, facilitates simple upgrades from u-blox GSM, HSPA or CDMA modules and ensures future-proof, seamless mechanical scalability across technologies.

The SARA-N2 module provides secure, private communications over licensed spectrum with guaranteed quality of service. It supports peak downlink rates of up to 227 kbps and uplink rates of up to 21 kbps. Simultaneous support for three RF bands means that the same module may be used in most geographic regions.


The benefits of NB-IoT over other cellular radio technologies include lower device complexity, ultra-low power operation and support for up to 150,000 devices per single cellular cell. The technology offers a 20 dB link budget improvement over GPRS to give excellent performance under poor coverage conditions such as underground or inside buildings. This margin, u-blox says, can potentially be traded for additional battery life.


The company offers its comparison with with Low Power Wide Area (LPWA) services operating in unlicensed spectrum; “NB-IoT offers greater security and freedom from interference because it uses a licensed spectrum based network. Other advantages include lower latency than mesh networks, thanks to its point-to-point topology, the ability to run it adjacent to existing 2G and LTE networks - it needs just