The battle lines are being drawn for the future of cellular IoT, with rival narrowband LTE specifications being offered as the potential standard for 4G machine communications.
Friday afternoon, Ericsson AB (Nasdaq: ERIC), Intel Corp. (Nasdaq: INTC) and Nokia Corp. (NYSE: NOK) announced they are throwing their weight behind a new specification called Narrow-Band Long-Term Evolution (NB-LTE).
The timing of the announcement is crucial: Proposals for a narrowband LTE specification are expected to be voted on by the 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP) Radio Access Network (RAN) group meeting in Phoenix next week.
But NB-LTE doesn't have industry-wide support: Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd. and others are endorsing the existing Narrowband Cellular IoT (CIoT) proposal. (See Narrowband Cellular IoT Offers Clean Slate.)
The 3GPP group's decision will be key, as narrowband LTE specifications are going to play a crucial role in the development of the IoT market.
Narrowband LTE is supposed to make it easier for operators to support the large numbers of battery-powered IoT devices expected to connect to existing 4G LTE networks, but without flooding the networks. Existing 4G networks are viewed as crucial to IoT development because they'll be around for decades, in effect future-proofing IoT devices, which often have a much longer useful lifespan than a smartphone: By contrast, 2G and 3G networks may soon be decommissioned. (See T-Mobile Woos IoT Switchers With 4G Discount.)
Narrowband LTE proposals for machine-to-machine (M2M) communications have been working through the industry for several years. In August 2015, Ericsson, Intel, Nokia, AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T), Sprint Corp. (NYSE: S) and Verizon Wireless proposed a clean slate project to the 3GPP that would re-use as much existing LTE technology as possible. Intel and friends are now solidifying this with NB-LTE.
A spokesperson from Intel explained in an email to Light Reading Friday why it is backing NB-LTE over other proposals for narrowband 4G:
- The key difference is that the NB-LTE technology allows a high re-use of already existing LTE network technology for both infrastructure and chipset. This will favor a fast adoption and maximize economies of scale. Clean Slate requires dedicated investments for network infrastructure and chipsets, as well as the creation of a new ecosystem. We believe NB-LTE will provide superior technology that leverages existing investments and an existing ecosystem, which we believe will be the key prerequisite for enabling the future of the cellular IoT.
— Dan Jones, Mobile Editor, Light Reading