u-blox/Vodafone/Huawei trial IoT RF link scheme in mobile bands

December 18, 2015 // By Graham Prophet
Vodafone, Huawei and u-blox have announced that they have completed a commercial trial of “pre-standard” NB-IoT (Narrowband Internet of Things). NB-IoT is an RF medium that intended extend Internet of Things (IoT) connectivity to efficiently connect objects to the internet which are in areas hard to reach by normal mobile signals, or that require a long battery life.

“Pre-standard” refers the fact that a format standard for the protocol has yet to be agreed; industry technology standards for NB-IoT will (the partnership anticipates) be specified in early 2016 by the 3GPP global cellular standards organisation within its Release-13 specification.

The technology uses narrow-band signalling within already-licensed mobile bands. In a 3GPP meeting that took place on September 17, 2015, in Phoenix, Arizona, the decision was taken to

to standardise NB-IOT. That meeting proposed the technology as providing improved indoor coverage, support of massive number of low throughput devices, low delay sensitivity, ultra-low device cost, low device power consumption and optimised network architecture.

The technology can be deployed “in-band”, using resource blocks within a normal LTE carrier, or in the unused resource blocks within a LTE carrier’s guard-band, or “standalone” for deployments in dedicated spectrum.

NB-IoT is also particularly suitable, 3GPP believes, for the “re-farming” of GSM channels. “It took us some twists and turns to get there, but we have now set a clear path in Release 13 to meet the needs of the 3GPP industry to further address the promising IoT market.” Dino Flore, the Chairman of 3GPP RAN said, adding; “We entered the meeting with competing technology proposals for standardisation. After lengthy discussions we came up with a harmonised technology proposal with very broad industry support as can be seen from the number of companies supporting the approved Work Item”.

The u-blox/Vodafone/Huawei group sent its first pre-standard NB-IoT message over a live commercial network in Spain; the participants term the technology “Low Power Wide Area (LPWA)” and assert that NB-IoT has “strong industry support” [as it implements] LPWA technology in licensed spectrum, able to be deployed over existing mobile networks.

Vodafone and Huawei integrated the technology onto the operator’s existing mobile network in Spain and then sent the first pre-standard NB-IoT message to a u-blox module in a water meter. NB-IoT promises to achieve up to