How Huawei set the tone for NB-IoT, cellular’s LPWA network
In 2015, Huawei published a report titled “NB-IoT: Enabling new business opportunities,” arguing that wide area low power networks, which had already been around for a decade, were fragmented – having poor reliability, security and high operational costs. Its response was narrowband-IoT, the cellular equivalent to unlicensed LPWAN solutions from companies like Sigfox or Ingenu.
Huawei forecasted distinct narrowband “internet of things” applications that would often be deployed in more than one industry, including more than 50 use cases, covering service categories such as smart metering (electricity, gas and water); facility management services; intruder alarms and fire alarms; connected personal appliances measuring health parameters; smart city infrastructure such as street lamps or dustbins; and connected industrial appliances such as welding machines or air compressors.
Huawei, in collaboration with Vodafone, has been developing research into narrowband cellular IoT technology since 2014. Together with the participation of Qualcomm, Huawei said it has been able to formulate the related technical standards of uplink and downlink, and in 2015, officially submitted NB-IoT proposals to the Third Generation Partnership Project. Based on Huawei’s proposals, the 3GPP dubbed the technology NB-IoT in September 2015, and the formulation of those standards were completed this June.
Meanwhile, Huawei continues to deploy commercial NB-IoT pilots around the world. Huawei and Vodafone completed a joint demonstration of smart metering at the Mobile World Congress 2015 event in Barcelona, Spain, and at MWC Shanghai 2015, Huawei and China Unicom showed off an experimental pilot introduction of a commercial network-based intelligent parking system for trial with global tier-one telecom operators.
“The number of cellular IoT connections worldwide will grow seven-fold over the next three to four years,” said Jiang Wangcheng, VP of marketing and solutions in Huawei’s products and solutions division. NB-IoT will be a key driver for this trend – it will also be one of the key untapped markets for operators.”
NB-IoT operates at sub-gigahertz frequencies within the 3GPP standards, with the goal of provisioning low-data devices and sensors with very low power requirements. Currently, it can operate at full effectiveness, depending on configuration, at 200 KHz and eventually at 450, 850 and 900 MHz frequencies, according to The Stack.
According to Huawei, the reason existing cellular infrastructure was inadequate came down to three limitations: coverage, battery life and device cost.
In terms of coverage, Huawei claimed existing cellular networks already offer very good area coverage in mature markets. However, many potential “connected objects” are located in remote areas, far away from the next cellular base station. If there is coverage, it is often weak, which requires the device transmitter to operate at high power, draining the battery. In addition, cellular networks are not optimized for applications that occasionally transmit small amounts of data.
For the battery life challenge, Huawei said the need for several years of expected life combined with an inexpensive device could not be realized on existing cellular standards as they do not support the required power saving mechanisms.
And for device cost, Huawei noted mobile devices working on GSM, 3G and LTE networks are designed for a variety of services, including mobile voice, messaging and high-speed data transmission. However, NB-IoT applications typically require low speed and reliable data transfer. Therefore, using cellular devices for NB-IoT applications means using devices seen as too expensive for the application. Many of the NB-IoT use cases require a low device price, not just in order to have a positive business case for the service operation, but also due to practical aspects such as ease of installation or risk of theft.
The future of NB-IoT for Huawei
Huawei recently announced the commercialization of its end-to-end NB-IoT solution will take place starting next year. Huawei reps said the solution was made available on a small scale in September, and it plans to conduct a large commercial trial in the fourth quarter of this year.