While the majority of smart building devices previously ran on 2G and 3G connections, in the future, billions of devices will utilize either NB-IoT and LTE-M on top of existing LTE networks.
As more commercial real estate tenants look for properties which can help them to increase revenue and worker productivity, a robust Internet of Things ( IoT) connectivity infrastructure in the commercial office, healthcare and industrial sectors is poised to play a significant role in attracting tenants.
By 2024, 45% of cellular IoT connections will be driven by Narrowband IoT (NB-IoT) or Cat-M according to the latest mobility report released by Ericsson. Cellular IoT connections are predicted to increase to 4.1 billion by 2024 from 1.0 billion in 2018.
Exponential Growth of Massive IoT
The growth of the Internet of Things devices has been driven by lower technology costs of sensors and devices, the ubiquitous use of smartphones and the widely available access to broadband Internet.
The Massive IoT segment includes wide-area use cases, which involve connecting millions of low-complexity, low-cost devices with a long battery life that require relatively low throughput. LTE networks provide support for these applications with two leading connectivity technologies NB-IoT and LTE-M.
Verticals using massive Internet of Things devices range from utilities and smart metering to healthcare medical wearable devices to the transportation sector for the tracking of assets and shipments.
Together NB-IoT and LTE-M are expected to account for nearly 45% of all cellular IoT connections and will co-exist in spectrum bands with 5G in the future.
While NB-IoT and LTE-M are used together by service providers through a shared network, there are some key differences that building owners should know.
Narrow-band IoT (NB-IoT)
NB-IoT supports ultra-low complexity devices with a very narrow bandwidth of 200 kilohertz and data rate peaks of about 250 Kbps.
NB-IoT is best suited for very low data rate applications in extremely challenging radio conditions such as utility meters and smart building sensors which often do not require extensive data transmission capabilities.
One of the advantages of NB-IoT is that it can penetrate building materials and access dead zones such as parking garages and basements which makes it very useful for gathering data from boiler rooms, water meters and heating and cooling systems.
The global shipments of NB-IoT devices tripled to 142 million units in 2019 from 53 million units last year, according to data collected by IoT analyst firm Berg Insight.
NB-IoT device shipments are expected to ramp up significantly in European and North American markets in the next 18 months as NB-IoT is integrated into a broader set of products.
“While early deployments have so far been focused on traditional verticals such as smart metering, we expect to see NB-IoT being integrated into a broader set of products in 2019–2020, including home appliances, door locks, and smoke detectors”, stated to Fredrik Stalbrand senior analyst at Berg Insight.
Major North American carriers were late adopters of the technology, but are now adding and trialing NB-IoT in their networks as a complement to LTE-M. In the United States, T-Mobile was the first to launch an NB-IoT service in 2018 and was followed by Verizon and AT&T in the first half of this year
European mobile operators have made significant progress towards universal NB-IoT coverage. Vodafone has been among the leaders in the development of NB-IoT with live services in eleven countries, including Germany, Italy, UK, Spain and the Netherlands.
LTE-M, known as Cat-M or Cat-M1, operates at 1.4 megahertz bandwidth and supports higher device complexity. Cat-M1’s wider bandwidth allows it to achieve higher data rates, lower latency and more accurate device positioning.
Cat-M1 is compatible with the existing LTE network, which makes it attractive to carriers like Verizon and AT&T and can be added to LTE networks via a software update.
Cat-M1 also supports voice and mobility, which NB-IoT cannot. LTE Cat M1 is ideal for mobile use cases because it handles hand‑over between cell towers, much like high-speed LTE.
LTE-M is considered a better option for mission-critical applications, because it supports devices that need to communicate in real time to ensure the application meets user-experience requirements. Examples of real-time communication include voice, emergency data and precision tracking data.
If a sensored product moves from point A to point B crossing several different network cells, a Cat -M device will behave the same way as a cellular phone. For this reason, Cat-M1 is better suited to applications where sensors are placed on moving devices or require higher data transmission rates with no interruptions.
For example, CaT-M1 would be better suited for sending and aggregating data collected from elevators across a portfolio of commercial office buildings to the cloud while NB-IoT may be used to gather data from a boiler room systems in the basement.