NB-IoT Grows Exponentially Towards a Bright Future - Mobile World Live

NB-IoT Grows Exponentially Towards a Bright Future

10 OCT 2019

PARTNER FEATURE: The GSMA Mobile Economy 2019 forecasts global IoT connections to triple by 2025, reaching 25 billion, while related revenue is set to quadruple, reaching US$ 1.1 trillion. Following five years of technological/market and business model development, which began in May, 2014 when Narrowband IoT (NB-IoT) was initiated in 3GPP, more than 100 commercial NB-IoT networks have been deployed globally, featuring more than 60 million connections. Specifically regarding smart gas and smart water, NB-IoT has both gained more than 10 million connections, sending the entire NB-IoT industry to the turning point towards scaled growth.

NB-IoT as a Candidate 5G Technology

Finalized in June 2016, NB-IoT Release 13 preluded the creation of the world’s first 3GPP-based cellular IoT networks for telecom operators. Releases 14 and 15 were then introduced, bringing about enhanced network and terminal performance, service continuity, and mobility capability to 120 km per hour. This enabled improved support for low power consumption WAN (LPWA) applications, such as NB-IoT POS, electric bicycle management, financial automotive credit, and other asset tracking services. NB-IoT single-user rates reached over 100 kbps in both uplink and downlink, outperforming GPRS technology.

In July, 2019, 3GPP included NB-IoT as a candidate 5G LPWA technology and submitted it to the International Telecommunication Union-Radiocommunication Sector (ITU-R). NB-IoT will become part of 5G, enabling smooth evolution from 4G IoT to 5G IoT and preventing services from being impacted on current NB-IoT terminals after spectrum is refarmed to serve 5G new air interface (NR). In addition, no new 5G LPWA technology will be included in Release 16, which is to be finalized by March 2020. Existing LPWA use cases will continue to be addressed by evolving LTE-M and NB-IoT, meaning that industry partners are entitled to accelerated digital transformation based on mature NB-IoT technologies and industry chain resources.

A Turning point in the NB-IoT Industry

In 2017, the number of NB-IoT connections was just 2 million. In September 2019, this figure has risen to 60 million and is expected to top 100 million by the end of this year. Based on a forecast from Counterpoint, the renowned consulting firm, NB-IoT will encompass 2.25 billion connections by 2025, approximately half of all cellular IoT connections. The Global mobile Suppliers Association (GSA) also concluded that, by the end of September 2019, commercial NB-IoT will have been adopted by 101 telecom operators across 55 countries. Currently, network-wide NB-IoT is already available in 40 countries.

More broadly, the industry ecosystem continues to flourish. 10 commercial applications are currently gaining strong momentum. 18 vendors are engaged in NB-IoT chip development, along with 180 types of modules and 1500 industry partners. NB-IoT based vertical standards have been developed and implemented in over 10 industries, including water, gas, firefighting, white goods, door locks, manhole covers, and bicycles.

NB-IoT module expense is comparable to that of existing 2G-based modules. As NB-IoT connections scale up and business applications accelerate, the price of NB-IoT modules drops from approximately U$30 one year ago, to that of existing 2G modules.

NB-IoT Connections Deliver Value, with Over 10 Million Vertical Industry Applications

The widespread success of NB-IoT commercialization shifts policy-fueled growth to self-growth driven by vertical industry requirements across the NB-IoT industry, with application scenarios extended from B2B to B2C. Two applications have emerged, smart gas and smart water, each with over 10 million connections. It is expected that smart electric vehicles and intelligent smoke sensors will encompass more than 10 million connections by the end of 2019. Aside from existing LPWA applications, NB-IoT is increasingly being used in other emerging fields, including smart agriculture, smart manufacturing, POS machines, set-top boxes, and bridge detection.

NB-IoT integrates the physical and digital worlds. With big data applications, data becomes a core value for enterprises, enabling them to optimize production processes and reduce operating costs. As an example, gas metering based on NB-IoT enables remote reading, usage pattern profiling, and pipe status monitoring, allowing for the balanced dispatch of gas sources with supply accuracy increased from 90% to 95%. When compared to two-hop IC card smart water meters, single-hop NB-IoT smart water meters increase online rates from 95% to 99%, while reducing the leakage rate from 20% to 12%. In Yingtan, a city of Jiangxi, more than 2 million tons of water is saved per year following the implementation of NB-IoT smart water meters.

New industries often require several stages before reaching maturity, include technology development, expectation expansion, industry sinking, steady rise, and maturity. With the successful commercial adoption of NB-IoT across a wide range of industries, NB-IoT has passed a turning point, judging by the number of connections, the scale of commercial networks, and current application development trends, and will usher in the stage of steady rise to a bright future.

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