New LTE standard for Internet of Things gets push from 3GPP

The 3GPP took a big step forward last week in defining a new LTE standard designed for the low-power and low-bandwidth nature of the Internet of Things.

At a meeting in Phoenix the 3GPP's radio access network working group agreed to standardize Narrowband-IoT, or NB-IoT. "The new technology will provide improved indoor coverage, support of massive number of low throughput devices, low delay sensitivity, ultra-low device cost, low device power consumption and optimized network architecture," 3GPP said in a blog post.

Last week Nokia (NYSE:NOK), Ericsson (NASDAQ: ERIC) and Intel said they collaborated on Narrowband-LTE (NB-LTE), which they argued is the best path forward for using LTE to power IoT devices. However, there was a competing proposal that had been pushed by Huawei and other companies called Narrowband Cellular IoT (CIoT). Intel said it favored NB-LTE technology because it "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."

Intel argued Cellular IoT "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."

The new 3GPP proposal seems to include elements of both approaches. "It took us some twists and turns to get there, but we have now set a clear path in Release 13 to meet the needs of the 3GPP industry to further address the promising IoT market," Dino Flore, the chairman of 3GPP RAN, said in the blog post. "We entered the meeting with competing technology proposals for standardization. After lengthy discussions we came up with a harmonized technology proposal with very broad industry support as can be seen from the number of companies supporting the approved Work Item."

The NB-IoT technology can be deployed "in-band" and use resource blocks within a normal LTE carrier, or in the unused resource blocks within a LTE carrier's guard-band, or in "standalone" mode for deployments in dedicated spectrum. The 3GPP said NB-IoT is "also particularly suitable for the refarming of GSM channels."

The 3GPP's proposal faces competition from the likes of Sigfox, LoRa and Ingenu's Random Phase Multiple Access (RPMA) in the battle to become the standard for long-range connectivity for IoT devices. AT&T (NYSE: T) is among the backers of a GSMA initiative to accelerate the rollout of cellular networks customized for M2M. Dubbed the "Mobile IoT Initiative," the project is designed to address the use of Low Power Wide Area (LPWA) solutions in licensed spectrum. 

The LoRa Alliance also counts mobile operators among its members and it released the LoRaWAN R1.0 specification in June. The alliance wants to drive the growth of LPWA networks globally and guarantee interoperability in an open carrier-grade network. Meanwhile, France-based Sigfox aims to get its low-throughput network rolled out in 60 countries within five years. Its network technology runs in the unlicensed 902 MHz band in the United States and the 868 MHz band in Europe.  

For more:
- see this 3GPP blog post
- see this IDG News Service article
- see this Light Reading article

Related articles:
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Sequans, Gemalto highlight low-power (and low-speed) IoT solutions for LTE
AT&T among those backing GSMA's Low Power Wide Area M2M initiative
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