Overview of NB-IoT Chipset Vendor’s Offerings
The IoT connectivity technology ecosystem is maturing quickly. While some technology entrants are already on the decline, the stronger candidates are establishing themselves as de-facto technologies for certain market segments and use cases. Narrowband IoT dubbed NB-IoT is the fastest evolving protocol. The NB-IoT standard was frozen on the 3GPP Release 13 specification in 2016 and is now available on more than 50 cellular networks around the world. This overview provides an overview of the NB-IoT chipset and module manufacturers and their offerings.
The IoT connectivity landscape has developed fast throughout 2017 and 2018. Its evolution has been accelerated by the 3GPP Release 13 specification (LTE Advanced Pro), which was frozen in June 2016. The Release 13 brought a long-awaited power efficient, narrowband connectivity technology option into the cellular world, called Narrowband IoT, also known as Nb-IoT.
As we know by now, there will be no silver bullet IoT connectivity technology, which would provide a perfect solution for all use cases. Instead, we are seeing an ecosystem of technologies formed up.
NB-IoT is the hottest topic in the IoT connectivity technology area today. It is a cellular Low Power Wide Area Network (LPWAN) radio technology standard developed by the 3GPP telecom standardization body. NB-IoT is versatile connectivity technology with very low power consumption, excellent extended range in buildings and underground, high security and reliability and low component cost.
NB-IoT focuses specifically on indoor coverage, low cost, long battery life, and high connection density. NB-IoT uses a subset of the LTE standard, but limits the bandwidth to a single narrow-band of 200kHz.
Compared to proprietary Low Power Wide Area Network technologies, the advantage of the NB-IoT is that it can be deployed on existing cellular networks. In fact it is now available on more than 50 networks and eventually will provide global mobility for devices. In June 2018, Deutsche Telekom and Vodafone Group completed the world’s first international NB-IoT roaming trial in Europe.
Availability of NB-IoT Chipsets and Modules
The rapid evolution of NB-IoT technology has made the chipset manufacturers quickly ramp up their NB-IoT product lines. Today, IoT device makers have a wide range of chips and modules to choose from. We have listed some of the most prominent manufacturers with an offering for NB-IoT.
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Gemalto and Huawei – via its semiconductor arm, HiSilicon – are working together to develop NB-IoT modules with a focus on security and low power consumption. These modules can be used in a range of IoT devices to reduce both size and production costs. The initiative will combine expertise from both companies in an effort to appeal to manufacturers meet the growing demand for NB-IoT enabled devices.
In September 2014, Huawei acquired Neul and included it in its IoT portfolio. Neul fits into the Hisilicon brand, which is Huawei’s semiconductor company producing cellular low power system-on-chips (SoCs) as well as imaging SoCs.
Intel XMM 7115
The Intel XMM 7115 modem is designed to support the industry’s first wave of devices and applications based on NB-IoT. Designed for integration with sensors, smart grid meters and other low-power endpoints, Intel XMM 7115 supports peak data rates below 200 Kbps downlink for devices requiring extended battery life. It is ideal for connected market segments such as energy, agriculture and transportation.
Intel XMM 7315
Supporting both the LTE-M and NB-IOT technologies, the Intel XMM 7315 modem combines an LTE modem and IA application processor on a single chip and is ideal for endpoints requiring wide-scale coverage, low power and low cost. The modem supports speeds up to 1 Mbps (Cat. M) and below 200 Kbps (NB-IOT) on the downlink for varied network implementations. Dual-standard support allows OEMs to scale their products globally, reduce derivative requirements and optimize their bill of materials costs. Intel XMM 7315’s integrated application processor allows OEMs to create and infuse custom applications and functionality into their devices.
Qualcomm is one of the major players in the NB-IoT chipset arena. Its focus is clearly cellular built around the emergence of 5G as the driver for transport, health care and IoT, including cities and smart homes and wearables. The MDM9206 LTE multi-standard modem includes support for LTE Cat-M1 and LTE Cat-NB1 (Nb-IoT) connectivity.
Samsung provides a broad portfolio of IoT technology, including gateways and wireless infrastructure, apart from consumer oriented products, such as smart home. In October 2017 Samsung launched an NB-IoT based tag tracking product.
In addition to that, there are reference of a NB-IoT pilot for friendly users in Korea, with KT operator, using Samsung IoT enabled LTE radio access and virtualized cellular IoT core solution (C-GSN), for the infrastructure.
Nordic Semiconductor is a fabless company (formerly Nordic VLSI) with focus on ultra-low power wireless SoCs and connectivity for the unlicensed 2.4 GHz band.
In January 2018, Nordic Semi announced an ultra-compact, low power, global, multimode LTE-M and NB-IoT System-in-Package, nRF91 Series with integrated Arm Cortex-M33 host processor, Arm TrustZone security technology and Assisted GPS.
The product is released during 2018; currently sampling to selected lead customers, start of general sampling planned for mid-2018 and first production quantities available by end of 2018.
The nRF9160 is making the latest LTE technology accessible for a wide range of applications and developers. Through the high integration and pre-certification for global operation, it solves the complex wireless design challenges as well as comprehensive set of qualifications needed to utilize cellular technology.
By integrating an application Micro Controller Unit (MCU), full LTE modem, RF front-end and power management in a 10x16x1.2 mm package, it also offers a compact solution for cellular IoT (cIoT) on the market.
Targeting asset tracking applications, the nRF91 SiP Series includes a variant with built-in GPS support. It combines location data from the cellular network with GPS satellite trilateration to allow remote monitoring of the device position.
Sierra Wireless, the number one cellular module vendor in the world, delivers a cloud IoT platform called AirVantage to manage connectivity, devices, data and enable applications. Sierra’s Airprime module and modem portfolio offers a wide range of cellular and LPWA connectivity chipset hardware. For NB-IoT deployments, Sierra’s Airprime WP 7702 chipset is offered using Altair ALT1250 chips.
U-Blox, the Swiss-based company with R&D in Finland, is a Fabless company designing products and subcontracting manufacturing. U-Blox has more than 700 employees in 20 locations worldwide.
For the NB-IoT category, U-Blox delivers the Sara N-2 series NB-IoT modules featuring extremely low power consumption and are available in a small LGA form factor and have been designed explicitly with the needs of battery powered applications that need to communicate for long periods of time in challenging radio propagation conditions. The single chip product is available for sale with a starting price of slightly above 10 Euros.