Last week, AT&T said it would launch a narrowband Internet of Things (NB-IoT) network in the US and Mexico. This is not AT&T‘s focus on deploying the first network specifically for the Internet of Things. The operator previously announced the launch of the IoT network using the LTE-M standard, aiming to cover approximately 400 million people in the US and Mexico by the end of last year.
Equally important, many other US carriers are also working on various versions of low-power IoT networks, including Verizon, T-Mobile, Sprint, and even Dish Network.
Five reasons why the Internet of Things has its own network
So, what is the reason for attracting these operators? Why do operators feel that it is necessary (or at least beneficial) to build a new wireless network to support low-power machine-to-machine (M2M) communication? After all, existing LTE, 4G Isn‘t the planned 5G mobile network available to provide the required network connection?
Yes, but there are other reasons.
First, why is the low-power IoT network meaningful?
It turns out that there are five reasons why these low-power IoT networks make sense, in addition to existing and planned mobile networks.
The first reason: cost
As always, cost is the most critical issue. Despite building from scratch, these new IoT networks can provide much cheaper services. For example, T-Mobile offers a $6 annual fee plan for machines on its new NB-IoT network. The company claims that this is only one-tenth of Verizon‘s similar service offering, but even $60 a year is much cheaper than a standard cellular connection.
Equally important, low-power devices using these networks are much cheaper than standard LTE devices such as mobile phones. As AT&T said at a press conference last year: "Now we can cover new areas, connect new equipment, and the cost is more affordable than before."
The second reason: power consumption
Power consumption is another factor. In contrast, standard LTE connections consume a lot of power, which can be a problem for devices that have been used for a few years with a small battery. If the device is connected to a network with extremely limited bandwidth (NB-IoT reduces the data rate to 120 Kbps or lower), the continuous use is much longer than the device connected to the full-power network.
The third reason: spectrum
The effective use of scarce, expensive wireless spectrum is the third reason that a dedicated IoT network makes sense. Both NB-IoT and LTE-M can be deployed in very small sliced spectrum channels compared to 4G deployments. NB-IoT can even be deployed in the so-called LTE spectrum "protection band" between LTE channels to prevent interference. This means that NB-IoT communication does not share spectrum resources with standard smartphone traffic.
The fourth reason: coverage
Clearly, these low-power networks provide better signal coverage for IoT devices deployed underground or deep inside buildings. Low-power devices running on these networks may also be much smaller than standard LTE devices, so they can be used in more places. It has been estimated that the NB-IoT device module may only be one-sixth the size of the current module.
The fifth reason: aging 2G technology
Building new NB-IoT and LTE-M networks can also help operators migrate Internet of Things customers from aging 2G cellular networks. Many operators are eager to deactivate the old 2G mobile network.
Second, a major reason against the special Internet of Things network
Everything is fine so far. However, there is a certain degree of risk in deploying these low-power narrow-band IoT networks. In short, the demand for bandwidth in the past has only evolved in one direction: higher and higher. Regardless of the usage scenarios originally envisioned, people always want to do more and more things with the available networks. These new networks seem to be quickly limited by the factors that made them attractive.
For example, NB-IoT is much cheaper than LTE-M, but it can‘t do all the same tasks. LTE-M has higher bandwidth, supports two-way communication (such as help with updates and security patches), and supports languages, which NB-IoT cannot support. Basically, the two standards take a slightly different approach to the same goal, and the goal is to have a lower-cost, smaller-capacity solution that provides enough flexibility to not only meet current IoT usage. The scene can also satisfy the usage scenarios that have not been thought of yet.