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What's the role of narrowband IoT in 5G networks?

The union of narrowband IoT and 5G technology can benefit manufacturers, organizations with large office buildings and outdoor campus settings. Here's what you need to know.

Exploring the role of narrowband IoT in 5G networks involves understanding how the two different technology standards may eventually become complementary. Let's look at what NB-IoT and 5G are and then how they may work together in future wireless IoT deployments.

What is narrowband IoT?

The NB-IoT standard was formalized by the 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP) and currently operates on LTE cellular networks. This is a niche technology for low-power, wide area use cases in indoor environments.

The purpose of this standard is to enable low-cost, battery-operated IoT devices to connect and transmit small amounts of data in a batch transmission scenario. The goal for some battery-operated IoT devices is to have them last up to 10 years without maintenance. To do so, NB-IoT was developed with absolute energy efficiency in mind. Yet, the technology achieves this at the cost of throughput and real-time data transmissions.

The technology limits uplink bandwidth rates to a maximum of 159 Kbps when using the latest LTE Cat-NB2 technology, an upgrade from LTE Cat-NB1, from 3GPP's Release 14 specifications. Additionally, the narrowband in NB-IoT means IoT devices use a single band to connect and transmit data. Again, this is for the IoT device's battery conservation.

What will full-fledged 5G networks look like?

5G is the next evolution of broadband cellular technologies. The technology takes a great deal of what works with 4G and LTE and adds performance, latency and device density benefits. U.S. carriers such as AT&T, T-Mobile and Verizon are upgrading their networks to 5G technologies as new mobile devices, such as Apple's iPhone 12, start shipping with 5G-capable wireless chips.

5G will also be available to deploy as a private mobile computing network. Thanks to the Federal Communications Commission opening space in the Citizens Broadband Radio Service spectrum, businesses can deploy their own 5G networks to cover large buildings, manufacturing plants and campus environments where traditional Wi-Fi deployments are less than ideal.

Bringing narrowband IoT to 5G networks

NB-IoT is currently being brought into the 5G fold.

In July, the International Telecommunication Union recognized 3GPP NB-IoT as an officially supported standard. This means NB-IoT networks should see bandwidth performance increase, higher connected device densities and lower latency numbers compared to older cellular technologies. Thus, expect NB-IoT to be a viable deployment option for both carrier 5G and privately deployed 5G networks.

Next Steps

An overview of 3GPP 5G releases and what each one means

This was last published in December 2020

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