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NB-IoT’s time has come, says GSMA, as it catches-up on LTE-M, reaches beyond China

The coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic will accelerate rollout and takeup of narrowband IoT (NB-IoT), which is building a head of steam already. NB-IoT passed 100 million connections in January on the back of a continuing surge in China, according to the GSMA, and is on track to catch LTE-M as the dominant IoT-dedicated cellular standard by 2022.

“NB-IoT’s time has come,” said Rich Cockle, global head of IoT and big data at the GSMA, writing in a blog post. “New connections [are] set to outpace those of its more numerous sibling LTE-M by 2022,” he added, citing a forecast from Counterpoint Research.

“With the extraordinary complications we now face, [the growth of NB-IoT in the market is] not a moment too soon.” There has been broader interest in, and attention on, the technology industry in the wake of the Covid-19 crisis, even as supply chains have halted the traditional supply of IoT devices into markets.

In particular, the cellular community, pushing NB-IoT and LTE-M as low-power wide-area (LPWA) systems for the low-cost fit-and-forget IoT market, as well as rival tech tribes pushing alternative IoT technologies like Sigfox and LoRaWAN, have designed and redesigned systems for contact tracing, and other tracking applications.

Cockle commented: “Whatever shape the ‘new normal’ ends up taking, the need for connectivity in all areas of economic, social and domestic life will be higher than ever – with consequent drive on the demand for cellular IoT devices.”

He exploded the post-coronavirus tracking concept into sundry workplaces: office buildings, manufacturing plants, transportation hubs, logistics centres, home offices. In particular, the industrial space will continue to drive the IoT market; the GSMA reckons smart manufacturing will remain the fastest-growing IoT segment into the mid-2020s.

“The answers will vary in each case of course, but the requirement for connectivity between devices will prove a common factor – and NB-IoT is quickly emerging as an integral part in this story.”

The GSMA took the moment – the global growth of a cellular technology, against a backdrop of global crisis – to make NB-IoT the answer, highlighting its pre-coronavirus momentum, notably in China, and in smart metering more broadly.

The post quoted a number of achievements: China Mobile will enable 70 million new NB-IoT connections in 2020; China Unicom has “attracted” 20,000 industrial IoT companies as customers; China Telecom serves over 50 million customers through 400,000 NB-IoT base stations.

The blog post also quoted Huawei, among others, from a (virtual) NB-IoT summit last month. “NB-IoT has undergone explosive growth and is now further energised by 5G,” said Cao Ming, vice president for wireless at Huawei. At the same event, MediaTek said “NB-IoT is 68 percent more responsive than traditional IoT in vehicle tracking tests”, apparently.

But momentum is building outside China, too. Quectel is shipping nearly a third of its NB-IoT modules outside China. Deutsche Telekom has signed NB-IoT roaming agreements with the likes of Vodafone, Telia, and Swisscom, bringing the total number of countries in Europe with Mobile IoT roaming to 18.

Rami Avidan, responsible for IoT at Deutsche Telekom, said: “This allows them to benefit from economies of scale as they continue to expand their business. We are working hard to help accelerate the adoption of NB-IoT roaming in Europe and beyond. It is great to see the interoperability of these networks now in place.”

—Enterprise IoT Insights

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