How IoT & LTE-M are transforming businesses

LPWA standards: Why narrowband IoT and LTE-M are the optimal technologies

  • With LPWA technologies such as Narrowband-IoT and LTE-M data can be transmitted over long distances in an energy efficient manner.

  • At Vodafone, the LPWA connection of objects is done via LTE cellular network and the connection is encrypted.

The abbreviation LPWA stands for "Low Power Wide Area" and describes a class of network protocols for wireless networking via mobile communications. The aim of this transmission is to achieve particularly low unit costs and maximum efficiency. Vodafone has decided not to implement other LPWA standards such as LoRaWAN and opt for Narrowband-IoT and LTE-M for good reason.

According to a survey by Machina Research, as of June 2016, there were already 40 million active LPWA endpoints worldwide. By 2024, LPWA will be responsible for more than half of all IoT connections - especially in the field of autonomous driving. In the domain of Internet of Things, all sorts of objects are now being networked to one another, which previously seemed impossible - especially because laying cables was not economical or even impossible in some cases. In order to provide wireless connections, over long distances and with the lowest possible energy consumption, various standards were developed and summarised under LPWA (or LPWAN for Low Power Wide Area Network).

Narrowband-IoT is just one of them, however, apart from LTE-M, it has the best possible characteristics for wireless device networking.

LPWA makes wireless IoT communication possible

Various consortia and committees have developed specifications based on the specified LPWA requirements that (should) optimally meet the specifications made for wireless networking. In the LPWA requirements, the number 10 plays an important role. A wirelessly connected IoT device should meet the following minimum requirements:

  • Long battery life: It should work in the field for at least ten years without being charged.

  • Long range: The connection between the LPWA device and the cellular base station should be possible over ten kilometres.

  • Low unit costs: The individual module should cost less than ten US dollars.

  • Minimum network utilisation: Less than ten bytes should be transmitted per hour.

  • Scalability: It should be possible to support more than 10,000 LPWA devices for each wireless cell or base station.

With regard to communication, it must be

  • wireless,

  • energy efficient,

  • cheaply available

  • and cover large distances.

Although the low-power wide-area standard does not have any precise definition in the form of maximum or minimum values and ultimately summarises a class of network protocols under one umbrella term, it forms the basis for all currently available wireless IoT standards. These include SigFox, LoRaWAN, LTE-M and Symphony Link - as well as Narrowband-IoT.

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The Narrowband-IoT-Technology proposed by the 3GPP (“3rd Generation Partnership Project”) for worldwide application has emerged as the optimal solution, at least from Vodafone's point of view. In addition to better building penetration than comparable technologies, NB-IoT also offers far greater energy efficiency. In addition, there is a millionfold scalability without having to compromise on security.

The same applies to LTE-M, which not only provides high energy efficiency, but can also transfer significantly higher amounts of data in a short time. In addition, LTE-M is superior to Narrowband-IoT in terms of latency times. With these two standards you cover every conceivable application: From underground water meter to intelligent fleet management to lift emergency call system.

LPWA in practice: networked machines, barrier systems and consumption meters

A plethora of practical examples for LPWA standards exist, especially related to Narrowband-IoT and LTE-M. For example, intelligent measuring devices transmit their data from the patient monitoring via mobile communications in encrypted form to the concerned authorities without requiring a doctor's visit. The car park management can also be regulated more intelligently: Messages about vacant spaces are also transmitted in real time to the appropriate locations, and even information about technical malfunctions in vending machines or barrier systems.

Especially in the public sector, and even in logistics as well as agriculture the Internet of Things is already in use. The connection of all concerned devices via radio connection makes the whole thing even more location-independent. What’s more: with the help of built-in batteries and solar support, the devices are independent of the power grid.

The LTE cellular network is the basis for LPWA networking

The basis of the NB-IoT and LTE-M radio technology is the LTE mobile network, in which certain, licensed frequencies are used in a large number of frequency bands. Compared to standard GSM mobile radio, network coverage is improved by 20 dB and the end devices have a service life of ten to 15 years with just a single charge. Until some time ago this took a few years rather than months.

In addition, the same effective security mechanisms and encryption techniques are used that are already used in the LTE network. Above all, however, the freely adaptable data transmission cycles ("duty cycles") and the unlimited output power as well as the theoretically high data throughputs speak clearly in favour of the use of the (sub) standards mentioned as LPWA technology.

In addition, you save costs when installing your equipment, since the unit price of the required wireless modules is well below the ten dollars required by the LPWA standard.
If you would like to find out more about as to why we are using Narrowband-IoT and LTE-M, we recommend visiting our product overview section for Vodafone Business.

The LPWA requirement is processed by several consortia and committees and developed into standards. Vodafone uses both narrowband IoT and LTE-M.

That is why Vodafone's LTE network optimally meets the LPWA requirements

If you want a decentralised set up of devices and especially in buildings or underground, optimal network coverage is crucial. This mainly affects rural areas or areas that are difficult to access, for which the next accessible cell phone tower is far away. Great network coverage, as it has long been standard at Vodafone in the LTE environment, offers several advantages:

  • Good network connections are also possible in the boundary areas of wireless cells.

  • The possible data throughput is significantly higher with optimal connection quality. Compared to alternatives such as Sigfox or LoRa, for example, NB-IoT offers a significantly higher possible data transfer of up to 235 kilobits per second.

  • Remote areas can also be covered without additional base stations or repeaters.

  • Compared to other LPWA technologies, NB-IoT is able to penetrate up to two or three additional brick walls without causing connection problems. This can be of particular importance in underground garages. LTE-M is also superior to other technologies here.

  • In addition, both Narrowband-IoT and LTE-M are more robust in terms of times of high utilisation and situations with sub-optimal network coverage.

Another decisive factor, especially when making investment decisions in the IoT area, is the fact that NB-IoT and LTE-M devices not only last the required ten years, but even at the boundary of wireless cell signal can remain charged up to 15 years without changing the battery, thanks to the higher transmission efficiency.

Invest in future-proof technology

Thanks to encryption, maximum transport security and high network coverage, LTE wireless technology has proven itself for years in everyday life. Since Narrowband-IoT and LTE-M meet the LPWA requirements within this standard, it is ensured that you are using future ready technologies. At the same time, however, these are open standards that are not operated by specific consortia or manufacturers. After all, you are bound to a certain technology for ten or more years, which in the case of proprietary solutions may not be further developed for you or are available only at high costs.

NB-IoT is currently supported by more than 30 of the world's largest network operators; the future of LTE-M looks the same. Well-known equipment manufacturers such as Ericsson, Huawei, Nokia, Qualcomm and Intel also rely on this technology. Visit our Open Lab in Düsseldorf and experience NB-IoT live and up close. Or get in touch with your Vodafone contact to find out more about the technology.

The most important points of LPWA at a glance

  • The LPWA standard stands for "Low Power Wide Area" networking of objects.

  • Devices that comply with this standard must, among other things, function for at least ten years without changing the battery and be able to establish communication with the corresponding base stations.

  • Technologies based on this have been developed by various companies and committees within the set minimum requirements.

  • For this purpose, the 3GPP consortium has developed open standards with Narrowband-IoT and LTE-M, which are based on the proven LTE wireless technology.

  • In both cases, the communication between the IoT devices is not only encrypted, but also particularly fast and robust against possible external interference.

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