KT, Samsung pursue NB-IoT pilot

Samsung Electronics and KT are launching a pilot service of Narrowband Internet of Things (NB-IoT, CAT-NB1) in Seoul and the metro area.

While Verizon is busy selling Internet of Things (IoT) services based on its newly rolled out nationwide LTE Category M1 technology and AT&T is not far behind, South Korean mobile operator KT and Samsung Electronics are launching a pilot Narrowband Internet of Things (NB-IoT, CAT-NB1) service targeting friendly users in Seoul and the surrounding metro area.

The Korean trial is to last for two months, with the goal of extending diverse service models and coverage in the near future.

KT and Samsung say the NB-IoT technology is designed to meet the demands for use cases that require low throughput and battery use owing to its main feature, the narrow bandwidth of 180 KHz. With its low-power consumption and cost-effective devices, NB-IoT is applicable to diverse service models for individual and industry automation, such as utility metering, smart factory, cargo tracking and location tracking of children and goods.

Back in February 2017, Samsung and KT signed the supply contract for NB-IoT solutions, and two months later, the companies are now announcing their readiness to start pilot service, which, they say, indicates the proximity of commercial service.

One of the key elements included in the contract was Samsung’s virtualized core solution for Cellular IoT (C-GSN). As the demand for IoT services continues to grow, the current LTE network needs to accommodate large amounts of connectivity generated from the ever-growing number of IoT devices. Samsung says its C-GSN provides scalability, flexibility, cost-effectiveness and easy operation compared to other legacy core systems.

Yet even though operators in Asia and Europe appear to be mostly starting with Cat NB1, that doesn’t mean they’re not interested in Category M1. At Mobile World Congress 2017, nine operators—including Verizon and AT&T—confirmed their support for the global deployment of LTE-M. The other operators include KPN in the Netherlands, KDDI and NTT DoCoMo in Japan, Orange (in 29 countries), Telefonica in Europe, Telstra in Australia and Telus in Canada.

The supporting operators are pursuing several activities, including pilots, IoT Open Labs and launches of starter kits to support and accelerate the ecosystem of modules and objects.

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Cat M1, which is also called LTE-M, and Cat NB1, also known as NB-IoT, are both part of the 3GPP Release 13 standard, but they’re two different categories of service, explains Kimberly Tassin, a spokesperson at chipset supplier Sequans Communications, which delves into the technologies here.

They’re both “narrowband” technologies: Cat M1 has 1.4 MHz channels and Cat NB1 has 200 kHz channels. Cat M1 has about 300 Kbps of throughput and Cat NB1 delivers throughput in just the 10s of Kbps (like one-tenth of Cat M1). They both serve IoT, but different use cases. Cat M1 is for those apps that need the higher throughput, like maybe wearables and smart meters, and Cat NB1 is for tiny apps like sensors and trackers, she said.  

Sequans’ Monarch chip supports both of these LTE profiles. “We believe (and it appears to be so) that most carriers will eventually deploy both technologies," Tassin said.