Nokia, Ericsson, Intel back NB-LTE, yet another wireless technology for IoT

Nokia (NYSE:NOK), Ericsson (NASDAQ: ERIC) and Intel are teaming up to deliver what they think will be the best cellular protocol for machine-machine communications in the Internet of Things. The three companies are going to collaborate on Narrowband-LTE (NB-LTE), which they argue is the best path forward for using LTE to power IoT devices.

The network equipment vendors and Intel said that NB-LTE represents an optimized variant of LTE and is well-suited for the IoT market segment because of it is cheap to deploy, easy to use and delivers strong power efficiency. Nokia plans to work closely with Ericsson and Intel to develop and bring to market the products needed to commercially deploy NB-LTE in line with market demand.

Intel said it plans to support the commercial rollout of the technology, with a roadmap for NB-LTE chipsets and product upgrades starting in 2016 that it said will enable slim form factors. Nokia and Ericsson will offer the required network upgrades to support an extension of existing LTE networks with NB-LTE optimized for low-power M2M communications.

NB-LTE operates with even less spectrum than LTE Category 1 or 0, and even the planned Cat M. The NB-LTE technology can run at speeds of 200 Kbps for downlink and in just 200 KHz of spectrum, compared to 1.4 MHz for Cat M and 20 MHz for Cat 1 and 0.  

Although Nokia, Ericsson and Intel are heavyweights in the industry they also face an array of competing interests supporting alternative technologies. Those include Huawei and other companies that are supporting the existing Narrowband Cellular IoT (CIoT) proposal, Light Reading notes.

An Intel spokesman told Light Reading the company is supporting 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 says 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."

Yet NB-LTE also 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 Low Power Wide Area Networks (LPWANs) 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.  

"The challenge now is that there are many competing technologies that have no interoperability with each other. It's clear that not all of these technologies will be here 10 years from now, but it's not yet clear which ones will fade," MachNation analyst Dima Tokar told FierceWireless.

Tokar added that because many IoT devices have life expectancies of over 10 years, "picking the right technologies is a quagmire for IoT device vendors and solution providers."

For more:
- see this release
- see this Light Reading article 
- see this Mobile World Live article
- see this IoT Evolution article 

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