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Narrowband Cellular IoT Offers Clean SlateNarrowband Cellular IoT Offers Clean Slate

As the GSMA promotes low-power wide-area (LPWA) technology as essential for the Internet of Things, could narrowband cellular IoT become the clean-slate solution of choice?

Steve Bell

September 2, 2015

3 Min Read
Narrowband Cellular IoT Offers Clean Slate

2016 looks to be a very exciting year in the low-power wide-area (LPWA) market, with a number of major players positioning to assist mobile operators to take advantage of the blossoming Internet of Things opportunities.

The recent announcement by the GSMA that it has established a "Mobile IoT Initiative" was yet another confirmation that LPWA solutions are an absolute necessity to fulfill the full potential of IoT. Twenty-six of the world's leading mobile operators, along with infrastructure manufacturers, OEMs, module and chipsets vendors, are lending support to this initiative to accelerate development of LPWA solutions in licensed spectrum.

The group will provide analysis and feedback to assist 3GPP in achieving standardization of the technologies as rapidly as possible. The GSMA's statement identified that there is an expectation for initial specifications for LPWA solutions to be completed by the end of 2015, with first implementations in early 2016 and full commercial solutions by year-end.

After years of convergence toward a single technology -- LTE -- the industry is recognizing that, in order to be able to serve the diverse but relatively simple connectivity and data requirements of the machine-to-machine (M2M) and IoT markets, a single technology may not be capable of delivering on all use cases. Consequently, the GSMA identified that its initiative will focus on three complementary licensed 3GPP standards: LTE evolutions, GSM evolutions and clean-slate technologies. LTE evolutions were covered in 3GPP Release 12 (Low-Cost MTC), and will be further refined in Release 13 (LTE eMTC).

With regard to GSM evolutions and clean-slate technologies, it is interesting to note that both were part of a GERAN #62 study item by 3GPP, entitled "Cellular System Support for Ultra Low Complexity and Low Throughput Internet of Things." The intent of the study was to evaluate the evolution of the current GERAN system via an extended coverage version of GSM (EC-GSM), as well as clean-slate technology.

Both GSM evolutions and the clean-slate solutions had to enhance coverage by 20 dB compared with legacy GPRS, and achieve ten-year battery life for devices that were also cost effective. These are not dissimilar goals to those of the GSMA initiative. The study tested EC-GSM and six clean-slate technologies compliance against a set of performance objectives that included improved indoor coverage, support for massive numbers of low-throughput devices, reduced device complexity, improved power efficiency and latency.

An August 14, 2015 report from the TSG GERAN #67 meeting summarizing the study concluded that, against these five performance objectives, NB-CIoT is the only one of the six clean-slate solutions that is fully compliant, and EC-GSM is the GSM evolution that is fully compliant, whereas the other five candidate technologies were only partially described.

The study also determined that EC-GSM and NB-CIoT met the requirements for coexistence with existing GSM UMTS and LTE systems and hardware. Now these two compliant technologies will move to the next stage in September 2015, with EC-GSM becoming a work item within GERAN and NB-CIoT becoming a work item within 3GPP RAN, with the expectation that standards for both will be frozen by March 2016.

With NB-CIoT on schedule to be part of 3GPP Release 13 in March 2016, it appears to be the strongest contender for the preferred GSMA clean-slate solution, given the results from work already being carried out within the 3GPP standards body. If consensus can be reached among the operators and the GSMA to support NB-CIoT as the clean-slate technology of choice, then the timeline identified in the GSMA's announcement looks to be achievable. Undoubtedly, the fact that the NB-CIoT standard is being backed by some of the largest M2M players should help drive this outcome.

— Steve Bell, Senior Analyst, Heavy Reading

This blog is sponsored by Huawei.

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About the Author(s)

Steve Bell

Senior Analyst, Heavy Reading

Steve's coverage at Heavy Reading includes the Internet of Things (IoT) and related technologies, focusing on the evolution of the mobile Internet and its impact on digital life. Steve joins Heavy Reading with more than two decades of experience as a strategy, marketing and technology advisor, analyst, speaker and commentator on the mobile Internet and the emerging IoT space. He previously worked with Motorola in Germany, the U.K. and the U.S., where he led technology roadmapping, strategy, product and business development teams that developed 2G, 3G and 4G cellular devices for the global market. In addition, Steve is an entrepreneur who has founded two companies: KeySo Global LLC, an analysis and advisory firm specializing in strategy, marketing and innovation, with a focus on mobile technology; and My City Tag LLC, a digital city services platform with an initial market focus on parking. Steve holds a First Class B.A. Honors degree in Business from Kingston University, England.

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