Breaking new ground with NB-IoT in rural areas

An ever-growing number of sensors, meters, and other devices are about to be enabled by Cellular IoT – and NB-IoT is one of the technologies specially designed to support these kinds of use cases. The great news is, after having achieved cell ranges of up to 100km in 2018 (extended from the standard limit of 40km), Ericsson has now improved this ability with an increase of up to 120km! Still, this groundbreaking innovation for long-range NB-IoT connectivity has been achieved without the need for device updates or eNB hardware changes. As long as an Ericsson Radio System (ERS) product is used, a simple eNB software upgrade is all that is necessary.

Breaking new ground with NB-IoT in rural areas

Principal System Developer RAN Cellular IoT Segment

Strategic Product Manager RAN Massive IoT Segment

Principal System Developer RAN Cellular IoT Segment

Contributor (+1)

Strategic Product Manager RAN Massive IoT Segment

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Farm animals have a knack of wandering off. And when one member of the flock decides to take a detour, chances are, others will follow – even if it’s not a great decision. Imagine then the relief of Australia’s farmers when a massive number of simple IoT-connected devices could keep track of their livestock from afar. All this can now be enabled by using Ericsson’s NB-IoT technology and smart mobile network software.

NB-IoT works for many kinds of connected things including utility meters and smart parking meters; various sensors measuring moisture and temperature levels, for example; wearables; and ships out to sea. It also enables smart homes, connected weather stations, connected milking machines, smart agriculture, vehicle and fleet management… and so the list goes on.

Wider cell range with NB-IoT

When Ericsson partnered up with Australian communication service provider Telstra to bring what was then our latest NB-IoT technology to the country’s commercial network in September 2018, the low-power wide area network (LPWAN) system connected rural communities well beyond the towns and cities. Pushing the boundaries of Cellular IoT connectivity in this way opened many opportunities for use cases in remote areas – for logistics, smart agriculture, environmental monitoring, and remote healthcare, for example. At the time, a data connection was made possible up to 100km from the base station, which was the longest-range NB-IoT connection of its kind. That was a great improvement on the standards-based 40km limit previously set by 3GPP. In effect, this extended the cell range of Telstra’s mobile network to more than 3.5 million square kilometers.

Simply software

Not only had NB-IoT cell range been expanded by 150 percent, the connection established by Telstra and Ericsson was enabled by simply applying a software upgrade to the base station alone, improving its functionality in the process. No hardware upgrade or enhancements were required – nor were any changes needed to the many NB-IoT devices deployed.

Receiving recognition

Last year, the 100km solution won Telstra and Ericsson a top innovation award, namely the Best IoT Innovation for Mobile Networks in Asia. The honor was presented at the 2019 GSMA Asia Mobile Awards during MWC Shanghai 2019, confirming the success of our partnership with Telstra, and no doubt inspiring both parties to continue to collaborate and innovate.

awards ceremony

Pushing the limits to a cell range of 120km

After achieving the cell range of 100km in 2018, at Ericsson we have continued to push the limits even further. We have now developed an extension of the cell range to reach 120km: that’s an additional 20 percent increase in the cell range of an NB-IoT cell. Successful testing and verification activities were completed in the last quarter of 2019 on Telstra’s live NB-IoT network in New South Wales using pre-commercial eNB software from Ericsson along with a commercial NB-IoT device based on a Qualcomm® MDM9206 LTE IoT modem from Qualcomm Technologies located at a distance of up to 115km from the base station. This range extension has effectively increased the coverage of Telstra’s NB-IoT network from 3.5 million square kilometers to around 4 million square kilometers of the country’s land area. The technology has now been fully deployed across Telstra’s entire regional Australia network. Needless to say, this was a cause for collective celebration for Telstra and us at Ericsson, and a personal triumph for every member of our team. It certainly made all the hard work seem worthwhile!

Not only can the farm animals in Australia now be monitored as they venture even further afield, the extended cell range of NB-IoT now benefits the whole network of things linked to the IoT as Ericsson has made the functionality commercially available in our latest Massive IoT ERS products.

NB-IoT in brief

NB-IoT is one of the Cellular IoT technologies in the segment of Massive IoT standardized by 3GPP to enable the Internet of Things running in licensed spectrum. It supports low-cost battery-efficient devices with enhanced coverage capabilities. 

The many benefits of NB-IoT

While NB-IoT has its limitations (in terms of limited bitrates and connected mode mobility support, for example), the advantages of using it are significant for some typical Massive IoT use cases. One significant benefit of NB-IoT is the coverage enhancement where data connectivity can be achieved in locations that other technologies fail to reach. That means it can serve devices placed either in the ground or in a basement, deep in the jungle, high up a mountain or far out in the wilderness. 

The benefits of NB-IoT include:

  • Deep indoor penetration
  • Long-range connectivity
  • Cost-effectiveness
  • Energy efficiency
  • Long device-battery life
  • Enhanced rural way of life
  • Upgradable through software updates
  • Enhanced cell range

So whether you want to monitor the temperature and humidity of your wine cellar, track your livestock, connect your cars, or keep care givers up-to-date on the state of your health, the chances are that NB-IoT will meet your needs. And since an NB-IoT-connected ship or smoke alarm can send an alert to the emergency services, it’s even invaluable when it’s a matter of life and death.   

Qualcomm MDM9206 is a product of Qualcomm Technologies, Inc. and/or its subsidiaries.

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