NB-IoT: Setting the Pace in the Race to 5G

LTE is evolving to support the Internet of Things as we head towards a massively connected 5G world.

Kenneth Stewart, Chief Wireless Technologist, Platform Engineering Group, Intel

August 9, 2016

4 Min Read
NB-IoT: Setting the Pace in the Race to 5G

The 5G era is upon us. An era where every person, thing and use case will be enabled with both seamless connectivity and massive computing power for the very first time, transforming the way we interact with our world.

In her recent blog titled The 5G Era: The Machines are Coming, VP of Intel's Communication and Devices Group, Aicha Evans, aptly noted that "Today's mobile world was built for smartphones with voice and data in mind. In tomorrow's world, nothing is mobile because everything is mobile." Likewise, in tomorrow's world, a device will no longer be just a device, but rather one of billions of nodes, communicating via an intelligent network that surrounds us. Any "thing" connected will be a gateway to a virtually unlimited range of new capabilities and experiences, powered by rapid and ubiquitous access to the cloud. From self-driving cars, drones and robots, to wearable devices, to sensors embedded in virtually everything -- by 2020 more than 50 billion connected devices will be in use, making our homes, our cities and our lives richer and smarter.

As we speed toward 2020, we must start to connect "things" now, allowing them to become greater than the sum of their parts. Intel is proud to have played a major role in creating Narrowband IoT (NB-IoT), the radio technology standardized by the 3GPP standards body, which delivers Low Power Wide Area access (LPWA) to a new generation of connected things in the race to 5G.

Figure 1:

With NB-IoT, the future starts now. In fact, Intel worked with leading operators and equipment manufacturers to showcase a real-world demonstration of the technology at Mobile World Congress Shanghai 2016. NB-IoT offers important technical benefits that will accelerate 5G innovation. It is a core technology necessary to meet the cost, battery life and wide area coverage required of massive IoT.

With spectrum in limited supply, 5G mobile networks must become more agile -- delivering the right amount of data, at the right rate, over the right air interface, within the right area, to the right device, in the most efficient way possible. Supporting the aggressive goals of 5G will require tapping into new licensed bands and exploring new ways to use new and existing unlicensed spectrum bands to meet data demands.

NB-IoT allows small form factor devices and sensors to connect efficiently to licensed spectrum of narrow bandwidth (180 kHz), mitigating growing network load in the valuable and scarce cellular bands, while also improving network capacity and spectrum efficiency. NB-IoT allows manufacturers and carriers to substantially reuse existing network and device technologies -- deploying within a legacy LTE carrier, in the guard band, or stand-alone.

NB-IoT also supports deep indoor and wide area coverage -- a coverage extension of 10dB to 20dB over existing technologies -- with low device complexity and power consumption, which are important factors to consider when planning for rural as well as urban sensor-based applications. Smart devices accessing the network via NB-IOT are expected to launch in late 2016 or early 2017 with a battery life of more than ten years.

Figure 2:

Why does all of this matter? NB-IoT eases entry for a variety of new products and use cases. Mobile operators can embrace emerging devices and technologies, creating new lines of revenue without stressing their network resources to the point of degrading the quality of traditional services. Manufacturers can develop solutions at massive scale for consumer, agricultural, industrial, metropolitan and governmental applications at affordable price points, speeding adoption.

Equally importantly, NB-IoT provides insight on what the "things of the future" will be, what they will do and how they will shape our lives -- while also helping us chart the path forward. And it gives the industry the time it needs to figure out the standards and technologies that will comprise the multi-faceted 5G "network of all networks."

— Kenneth Stewart, Intel Fellow & Chief Wireless Technologist, The Platform Engineering Group

About the Author(s)

Kenneth Stewart

Chief Wireless Technologist, Platform Engineering Group, Intel

Dr. Kenneth (Ken) Stewart is an Intel Fellow and chief wireless technologist for the Platform Engineering Group at Intel Corporation. Over the past 25 years in the industry, Stewart has contributed strongly to fundamental research in mobile wireless technologies including GSM, CDMA, WCDMA and LTE, and to the development of the associated 3GPP international wireless standards, particularly HSPA, LTE and LTE-Advanced. He has engineered and reduced to practice base station and mobile solutions based on the same technologies.

Most recently, Stewart was CTO for TE Connectivity's wireless division, where he drove innovation and product development for advanced small cell and distributed antenna systems, wavelength division multiplexed fiber distributed radio access networks, coordinated multipoint transmission systems and solutions for broadband wireless access infrastructure.

Previously, Stewart was vice president of Standards and Research at Motorola Mobile Devices, where he was responsible for international standards and research work in areas ranging from radio access networks, through multimedia systems to mobile applications and services. He served as advisor to Motorola Mobile Devices senior leadership on fundamental technical and strategic issues regarding the performance and evolution of radio access networks and multimedia technology.

Stewart has held the position of Motorola Dan Noble Fellow and served on Motorola's Science Advisory Board. He holds more than 35 issued patents, with multiple patents pending. He is a graduate of the Institute for Communications and Signal Processing at the University of Strathclyde, where he is also Visiting Professor.

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