NarrowBand IoT

What is NarrowBand IoT or nb-iot ?

NarrowBand IoT or simply nb-iot is just like a LTE network and uses LTE networks for communication. But the nb-iot uses totally a different RF frequency. And since the data transfer rate upload and download is in the order of a few kilobits per second. Hence the power consumed by nb-iot devices is very low. Where as LTE networks use separate RF frequencies with data rates up gigabits per second. Hence the power consumed by LTE devices is higher than the nb-iot devices. You might have noticed your battery drains out as soon as you talk to them on a video call. But both use the same LTE network for communication with different RF frequencies. The cost of the data usage on an nb-iot device is way cheaper and lesser than a LTE device. NB-IoT is a standard developed by 3GPP to enable communication with a wide range of cellular devices. It has a longer battery life if operated on battery. LTE M is an alternate standard developed by 3GPP and functions exactly the same like NB-IoT but with slightly higher data rates. More than 149 mobile operators around the world have deployed NB-IoT on their network. By 2021 nb-iot would be supported by most countries around the world. It is expected the number of smart devices will grow by 2025. NB-IoT standard was designed for devices to consume low power and still be connected to the LTE network. While communication minimum necessary data as required. And it will be one of the fastest growing wireless technologies in the near future. Currently the network operators just support 10% of the total IoT devices. With the growing number of use cases and need for low power devices this number will grow exponentially. Some of the NB-IoT features are as below.

  • Good indoor coverage.
  • Network operators can support a huge amount of connected devices.
  • Cost efficient.
  • Low power.

NB-IoT supports either IP (UDP) or MQTT communication protocols as they are lightweight IP packets without too much header data hence communication is faster and more efficient. Most nb-iot devices come with application processor and a baseband processor the baseband is purely for communication where as the Application processor is purely to get sensor data read from peripheral devices like i2c, gpio, uart, spi the baseband sends the IP packet or the MQTT packet to the application processor or it receives from the application processor to be sent out to the destination device via RF signal.

There are many companies who develop nb-iot devices and evaluation hardware most of these devices come with a sim card slot or a eSIM embedded on board. Most of these evaluation hardware have both application processors and baseband processors built in the SoC. Additionally there may or may not be few external peripherals on board such as sensors, buzzers, accelerometer, led and mosfets. The nb-iot stack software is mostly unmodified and is preflashed by the manufacturer. Only the application processor sdk is shared by the stack developer for you to customise the hardware based on your requirements.

Use cases where it is mainly used?

NB-IoT has a lot of advantages ranging from cost to connectivity.  There are many uses cases of nb-iot let’s take an example of heavy trucks that carry goods from one place to another place or country for hours or even days together now in this case the good owner needs to know the location of the truck every 10 minutes or every 20 minutes and also he needs to know if the truck was stopped at a certain location as well as if the goods door was opened or not if opened at what location and time. So that he can manage his supply to the right place without the goods being stolen in intermediary locations. Now since the journey of the truck is more than 10 hours or may be sometimes a few days. A normal LTE device would run out of power whereas an NB-IoT may provide the control unit or owner the constant data for upto 3-4 months for the whereabouts of the truck in this example. If there was an accident at any point in the journey he would get a status note about it sitting in a remote location. Or if there was any good stolen he would also know about it or if the wrong route was used to go to x destination he can still find out all the details of the journey live every second. 

Another example would be to measure the liquid level in huge tankers used in many industries so engineers know the exact amount of liquid or solid in the tanker in advance to take necessary action as a part of the routine. In this case a sensor would measure the required data using software algorithms on a separate Application processor and the baseband processor would be purely used for IP or MQTT communication. The control unit would then get a heads up value or estimate of the liquid inside the tanker. There are countless number of use cases from logistics to remote automation to process engineering where we need wireless communication for ease of maintaining the project.

Another use case is a drone where a drone can fly up in the air and is controlled by an operator on the ground. NB-IoT is mainly used by industries to control something from the remote location or to know the status of the devices from a remote location. 

List of all telecom operators in the world who support NarrowBand IoT.


CountryTelecom operatorNB-IoT supportSupported BandsNews
Hong Kong SAR China3Yes, July 2018
ThailandAISYes, Feb, 2017
TaiwanAPTGYes, July 2018
PortugalAlticeYes, early 2019
United States, MexicoAT&TYes. April 2019
Hong KongChina MobileYes, early 2018
ChinaChina TelecomYes, May 2017
ChinaChina UnicomPartial
TaiwanChungwa TelecomAll major cities
Sri LankaDialog AxiataYes, Dec 2018
FinlandDNAYes, April 2018
FinlandElisaYes, April 2018
South KoreaKorea TelecomYes, July 2019
South KoreaLGU+Yes, July 2019
SingaporeM1 SingaporeYes, August 2017
Sri LankaMobitelPartial
RussiaMTSYes, Sep 2018
BelgiumOrangeYes, May 2018
SingaporeSingtelYes, Feb 2018
JapanSoftbankYes, early 2019
SingaporeStarhubYes, April 2017
Saudi ArabiaSTCPartial
SwitzerlandSwisscomJune 2019
TaiwanTaiwan MobileYes, mid 2018
DenmarkTDCYes, Feb 2018
BrazilTIMYes, June 2018
NorwayTelenorYes, Sep 2018
Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Norway, SwedenTeliaYes, end of 2018
IndonesiaTelkomselMost major cities
ThailandTrue CorporationYes, mid 2018
Austria, Croatia, Germany, Greece, Poland, Slovakia, The Netherlands, United StatesT- MobileYes, end of 2018
TurkcellTurkcellYes, end of 2017
USAVerizonYes, early 2019
AustraliaVodafoneAll Major cities early 2019
Spain, Czech Republic, Ireland, NetherlandsVodafoneYes, early 2019