Network and chipset advances will see NB-IoT shoulder the IoT workload, says Huawei
NB-IoT connections will comprise the vast majority of cellular IoT by 2021, at up to 75 per cent and around one billion devices, according to Huawei. The number will climb from around 30 million in 2018 to 200 million in 2019, it reckons.
Huawei outlined the importance and progress with its network and chipset innovations in the cellular IoT space, particularly around NB-IoT, at MWC 2019 in Barcelona at the end of last month. The trend is rising for operators to switch off 2G and 3G services, and migrate old machine communications onto LTE-based networks, to go alongside the newer LTE-based IoT connections, noted Veni Shone (pictured), president of Huawei’s device chipset business.
“All the connections on IoT will transfer from traditional 2G and 3G to LTE, and 5G as necessary,” said Shone, speaking as part of the Mobile IoT Summit that ushered in the Barcelona fair. It will mean a glut of new IoT traffic on NB-IoT and LTE-M networks, even as the traffic mounts from new native-IoT applications.
Engineering teams within network equipment makers like Huawei are working to optimise cellular IoT networks to handle new use cases, and rising traffic volumes. “We are thinking how to make NB-IoT more powerful to support new business cases,” said Shone.
Huawei calculates over 50 use cases for NB-IoT that will reach “massive” scale. A number of use cases have already reached scale, with deployments of two million and up. It listed the top IoT use cases in China: connected water meters, gas meters, bike trackers, smoke detectors, white goods. Shone raced through the highlights.
Smart water meters are reducing leakage rates from 20 per cent to 10 per cent, in certain venues, said Shone. He noted the case of the city of Yingtan (“just one city, ranked 250th in China”), saved two million tons of water per year.
Tracking of electric bikes in China will be worth 300 million connections, alone, he said, used for theft prevention, safer driving, and fire alarms. Another city in China has already deployed three million of them, and has seen bike thefts fall by 60 per cent.
Huawei is putting in the donkey work, in engineering terms, to serve this swell of traffic and use cases. It has nine IoT open labs, including sites in Germany, Mexico, Thailand and the United Arab Emirates outside of China. It has another eight with operators, including Vodafone, Telefonica, Telecom Italia, and Etilsalat.
The company has deployed NB-IoT deployed in 500 cities, with 1,500 partners, running 10,000 applications, it said. By the end of 2019, it will ship 100 million NB-IoT chipsets, up from a 2018 total of just 15 million. Its 2018 model, the Boudica 150, supports Release 14 NB-IoT specs, offers Cat-NB2 and lower power consumption than its 2016-era Boudica 120.
The forthcoming Boudica 200, scheduled for next year, will bring Release 15 capabilities, and offer lower latencies, and more integrated and secure features in a smaller form factor.
“Besides chipsets, we are ready to upgrade the networks to better support NB-IoT,” said Shone. He explained the challenge to “open features across networks”, and the subsequent impact on power consumption and operational costs. “We are trying to make business easier for operators,” he said.
Its proposition is to allow NB-IoT base stations to “turn on and off automatically”, as data transmissions dictate, to “sharply reduce the cost”. It will introduce these “carrier on-demand” features this year, said Shone.
Huawei is also working to optimise NB-IoT networks so engineers do not have to be dispatched to fix outages and other technical issues. “The revenue per connection is not that much,” he explained. “Operators can’t work off high expense infrastructure.”
He added: “Our target is zero touch, in two-to-three years.” Again, Huawei will make improvements around self-optimisation and predictive maintenance to its NB-IoT network offering in 2019 – “to sharply reduce end-to-end the cost.”