NB-LTE vs NB-CIoT: your new favorite 3GPP acronym war

Metaratings
16 Sep 2015
00:00
Article

Last Friday, Nokia Networks, Ericsson and Intel teamed up to promote Narrow-Band Long-Term Evolution (NB-LTE) technology as a wireless connectivity solution to facilitate growth of the Internet of Things (IoT) segment.

The announcement has set the stage for a showdown at this week’s 3GPP meeting in Phoenix, Arizona, at which various groups and firms will present submissions for future LTE releases, as well as 5G. That includes technologies that will allow LTE to support crucial requirements for the IoT such as long battery life and cheap modules.

NB-LTE is seen by some as a direct challenge to Huawei Technologies, who is backing Narrowband Cellular IoT (NB-CIoT), which has already gained operator support from heavy-hitters like Vodafone and China Unicom.

The main difference between NB-LTE and NB-CIoT comes down to how much of existing LTE networks can be repurposed for IoT. Huawei declined to comment for this post on the differences, but critics of NB-CIoT’s “clean slate” approach point out that it requires new chipsets and doesn’t seem to be backwards compatible with any LTE network older than Release 13.

NB-LTE, by contrast, “can be fully integrated into existing LTE networks, works within current LTE bands and does not need an overlay network”, according to a Nokia spokesperson responding to telecomasia.net via email. In other words, NB-LTE uses more of the existing ecosystem and thus promises better economies of scale.

Tech fights in the 3GPP are nothing new, of course. It's also worth mentioning that the GSM Association’s Low Power Wide Area Network (LPWAN) Initiative aims to develop complementary IoT standards for the 3GPP that include both adapted LTE and clean-slate technologies like NB-CIoT.

But as Caroline Gabriel of Rethink Research points out, the surprise here isn't so much the push for NB-LTE as the timing of the announcement:

Discussion of a way to reuse LTE standards for the IoT have been rumbling for years. Nokia, Qualcomm and Ericsson have all discussed variations on this theme in GERAN meetings and hustled to get support for their particular approaches.At the start of this year it seemed that none had got significant backing, and last month the two network vendors joined forces and signed up Intel to support their NB-LTE proposal. Sprint and Verizon Wireless were also part of that initiative. That threw a cat among the pigeons, especially for Huawei, which had been taking the high ground with the progress on Cellular IoT.The end result is perhaps more critical for Intel than anyone else, since it represents its chance, at last, to secure a leadership role in a mobile platform, something which has eluded it. In the early showdowns over 4G standards, it sought to push WiMAX, an alternative to LTE whose ecosystem it could control, but backed the wrong horse. That left it well behind in 4G, but it sees the IoT as its chance to get back into the game on equal terms with Qualcomm. Discussion of a way to reuse LTE standards for the IoT have been rumbling for years. Nokia, Qualcomm and Ericsson have all discussed variations on this theme in GERAN meetings and hustled to get support for their particular approaches.At the start of this year it seemed that none had got significant backing, and last month the two network vendors joined forces and signed up Intel to support their NB-LTE proposal. Sprint and Verizon Wireless were also part of that initiative. That threw a cat among the pigeons, especially for Huawei, which had been taking the high ground with the progress on Cellular IoT.The end result is perhaps more critical for Intel than anyone else, since it represents its chance, at last, to secure a leadership role in a mobile platform, something which has eluded it. In the early showdowns over 4G standards, it sought to push WiMAX, an alternative to LTE whose ecosystem it could control, but backed the wrong horse. That left it well behind in 4G, but it sees the IoT as its chance to get back into the game on equal terms with Qualcomm.

Unsurprisingly, there’s also the usual geography-motivated theories that suggest NB-LTE is an effort by European vendors to keep the Chinese vendors from gaining the upper hand. According to Rethink’s Gabriel, some Huawei supporters suspect Ericsson of trying to delay the introduction of clean-slate IoT tech until Release 14, which would kill Huawei's current early mover advantage.

In any case, argues Gabriel, the company with the most at stake here may not be Huawei, Nokia or Ericsson, but Intel:

Discussion of a way to reuse LTE standards for the IoT have been rumbling for years. Nokia, Qualcomm and Ericsson have all discussed variations on this theme in GERAN meetings and hustled to get support for their particular approaches.At the start of this year it seemed that none had got significant backing, and last month the two network vendors joined forces and signed up Intel to support their NB-LTE proposal. Sprint and Verizon Wireless were also part of that initiative. That threw a cat among the pigeons, especially for Huawei, which had been taking the high ground with the progress on Cellular IoT.The end result is perhaps more critical for Intel than anyone else, since it represents its chance, at last, to secure a leadership role in a mobile platform, something which has eluded it. In the early showdowns over 4G standards, it sought to push WiMAX, an alternative to LTE whose ecosystem it could control, but backed the wrong horse. That left it well behind in 4G, but it sees the IoT as its chance to get back into the game on equal terms with Qualcomm.

Related content

Tags:
Comments
No Comments Yet! Be the first to share what you think!