Taking advantage of NB-IoT capabilities

01 November 2019

TÜV SÜD_NB-IoT_RED test standards typically take 12-18 months to catch-up with IoT test requirements
TÜV SÜD_NB-IoT_RED test standards typically take 12-18 months to catch-up with IoT test requirements

The Internet of Things (IoT) is set to revolutionise the way we work & play, and industry is rapidly recognising the business benefits & increased revenue opportunities that connected intelligent devices will deliver. As well as requiring a cultural change within organisations, successful IoT implementation also necessitates a technology paradigm shift.

This article was originally featured in the November 2019 issue of EPDT magazine [read the digital issue]. Sign up to receive your own copy each month.

As Phil Evans, Business Line Manager for Telecoms at global product testing & certification organisation, TÜV SÜD  explains, with multiple devices, machines and other components continually ‘talking’ to each other as part of the IoT connected world, the question for technology developers is how to effectively deal with noise on the radio spectrum in order to deliver streamlined IoT communications.

NarrowBand IoT (NB-IoT) is a radio technology that has been standardised by 3GPP (the 3rd Generation Partnership Project, a standards organization which develops protocols for mobile telephony), by merging Huawei’s Cellular IoT (NB-CIoT) technology and Nokia, Ericsson and Intel’s NB-LTE technology. Focused on Industry 4.0 applications and used for indoor coverage, NB-IoT is deployed in-band within the LTE (Long Term Evolution) spectrum, enabling many devices to connect at low cost, while optimising battery life. Manufacturers producing such technologies must meet demanding test requirements and are under pressure to keep up with changes to regulatory and country-specific requirements.

Using a low-power wide-area network (LPWAN), NB-IoT enables multiple devices and services that require small amounts of data over long periods to be connected securely using cellular bands, at low cost and low power. Specifically designed for machine-to-machine communications, NB-IoT bridges the gap between mobile communications technologies and short-range wireless technologies, such as Bluetooth and Wi-Fi. As it requires only 200kH of bandwidth, and is less susceptible to interference than other unlicensed spectrum LPWA solutions, NB-IoT can easily run adjacent to existing cellular networks. Also, since it operates in the licensed spectrum, it benefits from all the security and privacy features of mobile networks, such as support for user identity confidentiality, entity authentication, confidentiality, data integrity and mobile equipment identification. All of these factors are key contributors to industry’s enthusiasm to embrace NB-IoT.

While 2G and 3G connectivity saw the development of many early IoT applications, the advent of 4G-based NB-IoT has delivered greater bandwidth, lower latency and more reliable support for large volumes of devices per cell, which will of course be further improved with new 5G networks. This is because the 5G NR (New Radio) standard, will enable ultra-reliable low-latency communications (URLLC), so that end-users can be assured of reliable and robust support for a wide range of critical applications. At the moment, NB-IoT is essentially a bolt-on to 4G (think of it as 4.5G), as technologies are developed to meet the needs of a new 5G network. Consequently, operators have defined roadmaps for supporting NB-IoT LTE connectivity in the future.

TÜV SÜD_NB-IoT_logo_green
TÜV SÜD_NB-IoT_logo_green

3GPP-agreed technology for LPWA deployment NB-IoT offers three deployment scenarios: ‘guard band’; ‘in band’; and ‘stand-alone’. This means that NB-IoT technology can use frequency resource blocks within a normal LTE carrier, or it has the capability to take advantage of the unused frequency within the guard-band. This is an unused part of the radio spectrum that sits between radio bands, which is usually left unused to prevent interference between devices.

Use of the GSMA NB-IoT™ logo

The GSMA Internet of Things (IoT) programme helps mobile operators add value and accelerate the delivery of new connected devices and services in the IoT. The programme supports industry collaboration, appropriate regulation and the optimisation of networks, as well as developing key enablers to support the growth of the IoT in the longer term. The programme’s vision is to enable the IoT to deliver a world in which consumers and businesses enjoy rich new services, connected by an intelligent and secure mobile network.

The GSMA NB-IoT Forum agreed that multiple NB-IoT logos may confuse end users, so the global application of a single, widely recognised logo would be preferable. The GSMA NB-IoT logo has therefore been designed for network operators, as well as device, module and chipset manufacturers, to market and promote NB-IoT technology and products, as well as increase global recognition of NB-IoT. Developed by the GSMA NB-IoT Forum, any companies promoting products and services using NB-IoT technology (as detailed in the 3GPP specification) may use this logo.

Product testing

TÜV SÜD_NB-IoT_NB-IoT is specifically designed for machine communications
TÜV SÜD_NB-IoT_NB-IoT is specifically designed for machine communications

Most NB-IoT test applications are very similar to those for testing LTE technologies, but some specific LPWAN application features do require new test approaches. For example, as NB-IoT applications are chosen for their low power usage, often delivering a 10-year battery life, a detailed analysis of power consumption potential is recommended. This should recreate real-world scenarios by using different configurations and operational modes, in order to help ensure a battery life  of more than 10 years can be delivered.

Also, as is often the case with the introduction of new technologies, the standards which should support them are not always up to date, leaving a gap between technology innovation and practical implementation. A good example of this is when we worked with a base station manufacturer which recognised the potential that NB-IoT could afford its IoT base stations, and wanted to take advantage of the technology’s ability to operate within the guard-band by upgrading the software on its base station network. However, as the guard-band is there to ensure that devices can transmit simultaneously without interfering with each other, it needed to fully test this potential. As the Radio Equipment Directive (RED) test standards had not yet been updated to cover NB-IoT guard-band operation, the base station manufacturer worked with TÜV SÜD as a Notified Body to undertake regulatory testing for the European Union and Federal Communications Commission.

As RED test standards typically take 12-18 months to catch-up with IoT test requirements, this work helped the manufacturer to achieve a significant market lead in terms of delivering a reliable NB-IoT network that can deliver within the guard-band to optimise the number of devices that can be connected at any one time.

NB-LTE modules are currently being tested against draft ETSI EN 301 908-13 v11.1.8. The early draft ETSI document will become final published ETSI EN 301 908-13 V13.1.1 around March 2020, with a RED Official Journal (OJ) publication aimed for in July 2020. Until the harmonised standard is published in the RED OJ, a module manufacturer will have to use a RED Notified Body to obtain EU market entry.

While 4G saw the landslide uptake of smartphones, the telecoms industry expects 5G to do the same for IoT. Over the next decade, NB IoT will have a significant impact on industry, in terms of revenue generating opportunities and the introduction of new technologies and products. The Internet of Things (IoT) is revolutionising the way we work and play, as industry is rapidly recognising the business benefits and increased revenue opportunities that connected intelligent devices will deliver.

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