The transition of cellular networks from primarily serving people to linking billions of Internet of Things (IoT) sensors and associated gear is complicated because the needs of each differs.
A container reporting in from a ship in the middle of the ocean has little in common with smart city traffic lights that must be automatically shifted between green and red to enable swift passage for emergency vehicles. Networks, therefore, must be very flexible.
Emerging 5G technology will find heavy use in forming these networks, but that doesn’t mean that the current predominant cellular format, LTE, will not also play a role. Indeed, two emerging standards suggest that the role will be significant.
The new standards, LTE-M and NB-IoT, were finished last year. They will be center stage at the Mobile World Congress (MWC) next week in Barcelona, according to Computerworld. The two standards will join an ecosystem of technologies and approaches to IoT networking. It’s a complicated landscape. Stephen Lawson compares the two approaches:
LTE-M is the faster of the new cellular variants, capable of megabit speeds, and it’s designed for mobile use, including handoffs from one cell to the next. NB-IoT is slower, at around 250Kbps upstream, but allows for longer battery life. Both have longer range than regular LTE and are better at penetrating walls and floors.
In addition, he writes, proprietary approaches are aimed at the same task. Ingenu’s Random Phase Multiple Access (RPMA) system is rapidly proliferating across the United States and is used in about 30 other countries. Sigfox is in five European nations and is rolling out in more than 20 others, including the United States. Operators have some flexibility in their deployments. Much of the technical infrastructure supports both LTE-M and NB-IoT.
MWC will be a showcase, and announcements have been made in advance of the conference.
Today, Sequans Communications SA introduced the Monarch SX, a system-on-a-chip (SoC) that teams the company’s Monarch LTE-M/NB-IoT platform and ARM’s low-power Cortex-M4 processor. Other elements are a low-power sensor hub, a graphics display controller and a media processing engine. The 90-square millimeter Monarch SX is optimized for devices such as trackers, wearables, sensors, utility meters and other smart home and smart city appliances, the company says.
Earlier this month, ARM made two moves. It bought Mistbase and NextG-Com. The main product from Mistbase, a two-year-old Swedish firm, is a Valkyrie-NB. It is a physical layer hardware and software device that includes an operating system (OS), a radio and a processor for NB-IoT implementations. NextG-Com, a British firm, designs Open Systems Interconnect (OSI) layer 2 and 3 software for both NB-IoT and LTE-M.
IoT networks are unique in that they will be worldwide and be required to function in areas, such as deserts and oceans, in which no established network exists. They will also have stringent power requirements. The innovations necessary to satisfy these needs will be on display in Barcelona.
Carl Weinschenk covers telecom for IT Business Edge. He writes about wireless technology, disaster recovery/business continuity, cellular services, the Internet of Things, machine-to-machine communications and other emerging technologies and platforms. He also covers net neutrality and related regulatory issues. Weinschenk has written about the phone companies, cable operators and related companies for decades and is senior editor of Broadband Technology Report. He can be reached at email@example.com and via twitter at @DailyMusicBrk.