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With IoT connections now numbering in the billions, further hyper-scale growth is well underway as enterprises embrace IoT as the enabler of digital business. The connectivity options available have widened to address the different demands of enterprise IoT use cases ranging from low bandwidth offerings up to 5G cellular which is not ubiquitously available yet. Enterprise IoT deployments today are finding that low power wide area (LPWA) cellular connectivity meets their requirements for coverage and capacity at an attractive cost and with the support of a large developer ecosystem, writes Alexander Bufalino, VP of Marketing at Quectel Wireless Solutions.
It's easy to get carried away and imagine that every connected device needs the low latency, capacity and coverage density that 5G offers but this is not the reality. 5G will be a wonderful addition to the connectivity options for enterprise IoT but public networks are not readily available, economies of scale have not brought the cost of 5G devices down and few enterprise IoT use cases need the capabilities of 5G today. As the first company to bring a 5G IoT module to market, Quectel is seeing 5G uptake for utilization in private networks which are revolutionizing manufacturing, campus networks and smart cities.
These innovative deployments demonstrate the fantastic power of 5G connectivity but they do not represent the hyper-scale mass market for IoT. This is because most IoT applications need lower capacity, are less sensitive to latency and need to operate at lower cost than 5G can deliver today. In addition, many IoT devices only need to communicate relatively small amounts of data at infrequent intervals. Continuous high bandwidth communication is not a requirement for many enterprise IoT applications but long battery life and cost efficiency are fundamental enablers.
IoT devices such as smart meters or sensors for smart city applications are routinely deployed with expected lifespans of ten years or more so the power efficiency of cellular LPWA solutions is attractive to enterprises that operate these systems. These attributes are applicable to a raft of applications from tracking to healthcare and two technologies are being adopted now at great scale as organizations turn away from 2G cellular connectivity as these networks are being retired across the globe.
Narrowband-IoT (NB-IoT) typically offers 127Kbps downlink and 158.5Kbps uplink performance and modules can offer ultra-low power consumption making this connectivity ideal for serving a wide range of IoT use cases. Applications such as smart metering, shared micro-mobility, smart parking, connected security solutions, asset tracking, smart home appliances, intelligent agriculture and environmental monitoring are all embracing NB-IoT and coverage is growing in markets all over the world.
“Accessing connectivity for enterprise IoT projects is becoming far easier with several initiatives to simplify procurement of IoT modules and connectivity.”
Quectel’s newly launched BC660K-GL module, for example, offers the essential low power consumption for applications that expect to operate for 15 or 20 years without being touched, such as smart meters. The module’s extended discontinuous reception (eDRX) power drain is extremely low and its power saving mode (PSM) results in less than a micro-amp of consumption. Power usage is 800 nanoamps and daily consumption, depending on the usage cycle, can be anywhere between five and 20 micro-amps.
The cost structure of this type of deployment is competitive with proprietary network deployments such as radio frequency (RF) mesh, Wi-SUN and even non-cellular LPWA technologies such as Sigfox and LoRaWAN. The module is therefore a good option for enterprise IoT deployments that are migrating from existing 2G designs to NB-only devices.
A higher performance alternative to NB-IoT is LTE Cat M1 which typically offers 588Kbps downlink and 1119K and as well as ultra-low power consumption. This makes it well-suited to serve a wide range of IoT applications such as wireless POS, smart metering, asset tracking and wearable devices, among others.
Accessing connectivity for enterprise IoT projects is becoming far easier with several initiatives to simplify procurement of IoT modules and connectivity. Quectel has collaborated with Blues Wireless a provider of embedded cellular solutions which offers its Notecard product which combines prepaid global cellular, low-power hardware, simple software design and secure communications into a single system-on-module hardware offering. The Notecard offers a simple and cost-effective way to add LTE and 5G cellular connectivity to almost any product and service and utilizes Quectel IoT modules to offer 10-year global data plans with 500MB of cellular data included in the price of the hardware.
Cellular LPWA offers the performance IoT applications need at a price-point that enables profitability for enterprises that rely on IoT-enabled information to power their digital businesses. These offerings achieve the low power consumption many IoT applications require while also providing the connectivity needed plus an upgrade path to higher performance in future as and when required by the business case. 5G will, without doubt, add a further layer of functionality and performance but for those that are migrating from 2G connectivity or rolling out IoT devices for the first time, NB-IoT or LTE Cat M1 provide the most practical solution and the closest fit with the needs of the vast majority of business cases and this is why we are seeing adoption by enterprises skyrocket.