At least for me, the last three years of wireless technology have been life inside a hype washing machine. The advance of higher and higher datarates with faster and more complex modems, driven by the consumer need for better mobile broadband, had left the lonely M2M sensor device in the dust. Until 2014, mobile operators turned their back on the use cases that fueled technologies like GPRS and 2G.
The rise of Sigfox started a rapid innovation cycle that has seen the rise of technologies like LoRaWAN, Ingenu, LTE-M, and NB-IOT. Meanwhile, many serious manufacturers and enterprises have hit the pause button on new product development because the rise and fall of technology “darlings” can lead to big, costly mistakes (Read more: The Rise and Fall of WiMax).
NB-IOT is, in a way, the last one to the party. You can think of Narrowband IOT (NB-IOT) as the legacy cellular club’s answer to LoRaWAN and Sigfox, which is a pretty fair comparison. They use more sophisticated physical layer technology and licensed spectrum, but the addressable use cases are pretty much the same. Vodafone in particular is pushing NB-IOT hard: read more.
And we hear from customers that they are very interested in what NB-IOT and what it could mean for their fledgling IoT projects.
" I am very excited about NB-IOT."
BUT….we are years away from a meaningful ecosystem developing around a technology that no US based carrier has committed to deploying. Given that, and the general awesomeness of LTE-M (LTE Cat-M1), here are 3 reasons you shouldn’t wait to use NB-IOT for products and services you’re developing right now.
1. NB-IOT is not going to be standardized, much less deployed, any time soon.
For more on this, I recommend Nick Hunn’s excellent article: NB-IOT is Dead, Long Live NB-IOT, which basically comes to the same conclusion as this post, which is, it will eventually be great, but that is far, far in the future.
2. NB-IOT Firmware transfer isn’t seamless.
Some of the design specifications for NB-IOT make it such that sending larger amounts of data down to a device are really hard. Therefore, firmware transfer is really hard. LoRaWAN and Sigfox have this same issue. Sure, you can kill yourself stretching everything to the limits to get that binary payload down, but the system is not design to support that very elegantly. With LTE-M on the other hand, you can move 100 kbps using an IP protocol and update firmware in seconds.
3. It doesn’t offer any real advantage over LTE-M.
This is probably what AT&T and Verizon are thinking when they give timid responses to questions about NB-IOT. “What use case needs NB-IOT, that LTE-M can’s support?” This is a great question. If you have an answer, please, leave a comment below.
Generally NB-IOT fans point to battery life, but when you factor in the time on air differences (LTE-M messages are very short, compared to NB-IOT sending messages more slowly) and full blown PSM and eDRX, I’m not convinced.
LTE-M is here now, and it’s pretty awesome.
If you want to be among the first to experience low cost, battery powered IOT anywhere there’s a cell signal, let’s build an LTE-M product together. Get in touch.
Important: This post is mean to spur thought and discussion. If you have another view point, I’d love to discuss in the comments below!
CTO / Founder - Link Labs