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Monday, June 27, 2016

u-blox targets long life IoT wireless with world's first narrowband cellular module

By Nick Flaherty

Swiss wireless  chip and module maker u-blox has launched the world’s first cellular radio module compliant to the 3GPP Release 13, Narrowband IoT (LTE Cat. NB1) standard, opening up the use of cellular networks for the Interent of Things for the first time. 

The module is designed for use in applications such as smart buildings and cities, utilities metering, white goods, asset tracking, and agricultural and environmental monitoring and operate for between 10 and 20 years from a single-cell primary battery which has just not been possible up until now. This will also drive up volumes and drive down costs to make cellular IoT cost effective. 

“u-blox has been an early pioneer of NB-IoT and we’ve worked closely with companies including Vodafone, Deutsche Telekom and Huawei to complete the first successful commercial trials of pre-standard NB-IoT in smart metering and parking applications," said Stefano Moioli, Director Product Management Cellular at u-blox. "These trials proved conclusively that NB-IoT networks operate far more efficiently than GPRS and we’re confident of the technology’s future because of the many advantages it offers over alternative approaches. We’re therefore pleased to be able to announce the world’s first fully 3GPP compliant module that will enable customers to take full advantage of this exciting technology.”
The SARA-N2 narrowband IoT module has a battery life of 10 to 20 years 
The SARA-N2 Narrowband IoT (NB-IoT) module (above) measures 16 mm x 26 mm in a land grid array (LGA) package using u-blox nested architecture, and allows simple upgrades from u-blox GSM, HSPA or CDMA modules and ensures future-proof, seamless mechanical scalability across technologies.

The SARA-N2 module provides secure, private communications over licensed spectrum with guaranteed quality of service. It supports peak downlink rates of up to 227 kbps and uplink rates of up to 21 kbps, which keeps the power down aand allows the ten to twenty year battery life. Simultaneous support for three RF bands means that the same module may be used in most geographic regions.
The NB-IoT provides lower device complexity, ultra-low power operation and support for up to 150,000 devices per single cellular cell. Most significantly, the technology offers a 20 dB link budget improvement over GPRS to give excellent performance under poor coverage conditions such as underground or inside buildings.

Compared with unlicensed spectrum Low Power Wide Area (LPWA) solutions, NB-IoT offers greater security and freedom from interference because it uses a licensed spectrum based network. Other advantages include lower latency than mesh networks, thanks to its point-to-point topology, the ability to run it adjacent to existing 2G and LTE networks - it needs just 200 kHz of bandwidth - and a higher transmit power limit, which improves reliability and range. It also allows for robust 2 way communication which means that features such as firmware upgrade over the air are achievable. NB-IoT also allows global roaming, which is not the case with localized unlicensed spectrum based technologies.

Samples of the SARA-N2 NB-IoT module are currently scheduled for Q4 2016, with full production planned for early 2017.

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