u-blox is partnering with Huawei, Vivo, CAS Tecnologia, and PinMyPet to test the "NB-IoT" (narrowband Internet of Things) or "NB1" standard in Brazil.
This is part of a push by u-blox to pioneer NB-IoT hardware, which is an LPWAN standard aimed at improving indoor connectivity for IoT devices through narrowband radio technology. u-blox has already released their own specific hardware for the job, the SARA-N2 NB1, but Brazil is the testing ground they've chosen to study how it will function with the NB-IoT in a real-world setting.
Metering and Tracking with NB-IoT
NB-IoT is touted as a standard designed with the IoT in mind. To test it in action, the group partnered with PinMyPet.
PinMyPet is a company that creates trackers and a "social network for pets". Each connected pet has a tag attached to their collar that allows for their owner to track them via GPS using a unique code. This code can also be used by other people who want to report that they've found your lost pet.
The PinMyPet tracking device in action. Image courtesy of PinMyPet.
To accomplish reliable tracking, PinMyPet is using u-blox's SARA-N2 NB1 module.
These trackers offer a reasonable testing point for both the NB-IoT and the SARA-N2 NB1 because they rely on both excellent coverage and low power consumption to perform as intended.
Testing Telecom Standards
New standards are constantly being developed, hyped, tested, and sometimes then released and popularized. u-blox testing NB-IoT in Brazil is only one such data-gathering experiment.
Also being tested is the much-anticipated standard, 5G. Verizon announced earlier this year that they would be testing 5G capabilities in several cities around the US. Last month, AT&T launched a 5G trial in Texas using DIRECTV.
Trials and tests like these emphasize the real-world effects of standards. Some of the largest and most influential telecom companies in the world have a direct stake in the development and release of standards like 5G and IoT-NB.
How NB-IoT Measures Up
NB-IoT differs from its IoT standard brethren in a couple of key ways. Firstly, it doesn't necessarily operate in the LTE band, though it can utilize resource blocks within an LTE carrier. It also doesn't require gateways between devices and the cloud. This means that there's a more direct line between devices/sensors and the cloud, which can affect device battery life and latency adversely. The NB-IoT's strengths lie in what 3GPP calls "ultra low complexity and low throughput", as well as low device cost and low power consumption.
The testing that u-blox and Huawei are conducting now in Brazil will help answer the looming question: Is NB-IoT practical for widespread use?