Ericsson expects that a low-power 4G radio technology for connecting tiny, battery-powered machines to an LTE network could arrive as soon as 2016.
Ericsson AB (Nasdaq: ERIC)'s CTO, Ulf Ewaldsson, tells Light Reading that he expects to start testing narrowband-LTE (NB-LTE) technology in the first half of 2016, with arrival slated for the second half of the year. Another backer, Intel Corp. (Nasdaq: INTC), is expecting to start delivering silicon based on the technology in 2016. (See Ericsson, LG Uplus Team for 5G, IoT, Ericsson, Intel, Nokia Back New Narrowband LTE IoT Spec and 3GPP Makes Progress on Crucial LTE IoT Spec.)
"I think we are so committed in Ericsson to LTE that we said: 'Why not make a more narrow-band version?'" Ewaldsson tells us. Of course, this also allows Ericsson to re-use a lot of the development work they have already done on the 4G Long-Term Evolution (LTE) technology for the narrowband Internet of Things (IoT) version.
The IoT is not a new concept. British entrepreneur Kevin Ashton is generally credited with coming up with the idea of a world where everything from household appliances -- like toasters -- to municipal water meters are networked and transmitting data back in 1999. The idea has become increasingly popular over the last few years, however, as carriers -- faced with the decline of voice revenues and saturated cellphone markets -- have looked at the idea of millions of networked machines broadcasting on their networks as a new potential source of regular income.
Current LTE networks and radios are a barrier to the IoT. They can connect IoT devices, but they use a lot of power on the radio side to get fast data rates on a wide-band connection. Tiny machine-to-machine (M2M) devices don't typically require fast connections, and a low-power, narrowband radio connection helps to preserve crucial battery life.
At the moment, operator options for low-power connections typically span 2G modules or proprietary offerings like SigFox. The problem is that 2G networks are being shut down by operators looking to use the radio spectrum for new networks. Sigfox , however, is becoming more popular and could present a viable rival to NB-LTE. (See LPWAN: Choice Overload and Confusion.)
The eventual NB-LTE specification is currently being hashed out by the 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP) standards body. It combines elements of a narrowband technology supported by Ericsson and friends, with a narrowband cellular IoT spec, supported by Huawei and its pals.
Ewaldsson says that NB-LTE will offer connections at 100 Kbit/s. The specification is expected to have 180KHz channels on the uplink and downlink. In contrast, the LTE-M M2M spec for larger IoT devices, which Ericsson also supports, will have 1.4GHz channels. The NB-LTE spec is expected to be ratified early in 2016.
— Dan Jones, Mobile Editor, Light Reading