What is Narrowband-IoT?
SME solutions
15 February 2018

Drew Hook

What is Narrowband-IoT?

Today, about 6.5 billion things are connected to the internet, and while this sounds like a lot, less than 1% of the all the things that could be connected, aren't. 

Today, about 6.5 billion things are connected to the internet, and while this sounds like a lot, less than 1% of the all the things that could be connected, are connected. So why aren’t they? They’re either too remote, too inaccessible or there are simply too many of them to make it economically viable.

Narrowband-IoT (NB-IoT) is a new technology standard designed to broaden the future of IoT connectivity. Ratified by the 3GPP, a telecoms standards body which works to develop future generation wireless technologies, NB-IoT will soon be deployed by operators across the globe.

The technology was developed to enable efficient communication and long battery life for mass distributed devices across wide geographical footprints and deep within urban infrastructure.

Narrowband-IoT features and benefits 

Efficient communication 

Narrowband IoT has been developed to enable efficient communication across the world. For a device to connect successfully from an underground location, the NB-IoT connection needs to surpass existing cellular technologies. This means that devices located in tunnels, sewage networks, underground or in rural areas can be connected. The extended coverage is estimated to be a 20 dB enhancement on traditional cellular networks. 

Low power consumption

Where there is ample power available and access through WLAN frequencies, the IoT has thrived. This has enabled designers to create a plethora of devices for smart home applications, wearables and trackers. But for the IoT to grow, devices need to connect where signals are weaker – and that requires efficient, low power wireless performance.
NB-IoT has been designed to fit these challenging applications. Some carriers claim that this enables 10-year battery life from a single-cell battery, but this requires careful antenna integration to ensure efficient performance. In reality, the rate of battery deterioration will differ based on the volume and frequency of data transfer. Furthermore, an efficiently performing antenna will be essential to this longevity.


IoT has the capability of delivering coverage to hundreds of millions of devices. The cost per unit is low, and the affordability is key to supporting the density of devices that are anticipated to make use of the new wireless technology. Additionally, the narrowband project timeline has made considerations for LTE-M for more talkative devices. The eventual aim is to provide long-range network connectivity for devices of all kinds.

Security 'by design'

The process of standardising the technology, along with the input of several key worldwide carriers, means that NB-IoT possesses all of the same security measures that are currently present in LTE networks. Features include:

  • Secure authentication
  • Signalling protection
  • Data encryption enabled

All of these features are available as soon as NB-IoT is enabled. However, to gain these security advantages, products need to be certified and contain an embedded SIM, which creates a whole host of considerations during the design cycle.

Vodacom launches Narrowband-IoT network

Vodacom’s first commercially available Narrowband-IoT network has recently become operational in Gauteng. Vodacom is the first South African and one of the first African mobile network operators to announce the commercial availability of its NB-IoT network. The commercial rollout of NB-IoT is expected to accelerate IoT adoption rates, with Vodacom currently averaging 55 000 new IoT connections per month.


- Photo by Deva Darshan on Unsplash




Drew Hook