This IoT Global Ecosystem Summary report is for general distribution. A detailed report with a full list of IoT networks is available for GSA Members and Associates.
As GSA consistently reports, it is the acceleration of the 3GPP technology ecosystem that determines the speed of adoption of mobile technologies. We see momentum building rapidly behind 3GPP-based IoT. 3GPP Release 13, finalised in June 2016, resulted in significant numbers of commercial service launches and trials and increasing device activity. Both 3GPP Release 14, finalised in June 2017 and Release 15, functionally frozen in March 2019, continue to enable improvements in networks and devices.
IoT infrastructure, chipsets, modules and devices are now available from a range of companies: large and small, well-established and start-up.
The increasing size of the 3GPP ecosystem will further drive commercialisation of IoT, with mobile operators, infrastructure suppliers, chipset and module manufacturers, device companies and development and testing houses supporting new services.
This report covers the 3GPP-standards-based Low Power Wide Area (LPWA) technologies for LTE. These include:
Narrowband IoT (NB-IoT) networks
LTE-MTC or LTE-eMTC networks, hereafter referred to as LTE-M networks.
The ultimate objective of the 3GPP’s IoT work has been to deliver specifications that enable low-cost device implementations with ultra-long battery life, using techniques for reduced complexity and power consumption and better support for use-cases where standard 3G/LTE coverage is poor, such as for meters and sensors in buildings, basements or in remote locations.
NB-IoT and LTE-M are defined in 3GPP Release 13. NB-IoT can be deployed within an LTE carrier or in the guard band of an LTE carrier or as a stand-alone carrier in other (non-LTE) spectrum, with a system bandwidth that can be as narrow as 180 kHz. LTE-M is deployed within an LTE carrier. Two User Equipment (UE) categories were defined: Cat-NB1 (for NB-IoT networks) and Cat-M1 (for LTE-M networks). The coverage enhancement modes introduced as part of LTE-M can also be optionally supported by ordinary LTE UE categories.
3GPP Release 14 was frozen in June 2017, with a variety of enhancements to the IoT specifications. These included for LTE-M: higher data rate support, multicast support, improved positioning support (based on the E-CID and OTDOA capabilities introduced already in Release 13), VoLTE performance enhancements and mobility enhancements; and for NB-IoT: new positioning capabilities based on OTDOA and E-CID, multicast support, improved non-anchor carrier operation, mobility enhancements and reduced power consumption and latency.
New categories of devices were also set out in the specification: Cat-NB2 and Cat-M2 devices supporting greater bandwidth and higher peak upstream and downstream speeds than their Cat-NB1 and Cat-M1 counterparts. Furthermore, ordinary LTE-M devices that make use of the LTE-M coverage enhancement modes can use even larger bandwidths and peak rates than Cat-M2.
Release 15 added new capabilities for NB-IoT including support for TDD and small cells, extensions to NB-IoT stand-alone mode, several enhancements designed to reduce power consumption and improved access control. LTE-M enhancements were introduced by Release 15 that were designed to enable new use-cases, including support for higher UE velocity and a lower UE power class. Other LTE-M enhancements covered lower latency, reduced UE power consumption, increased spectral efficiency and improved access control. In general, new LTE-M improvements are applicable across all duplex modes (FDD, TDD and HD-FDD) and can be supported by both Cat-M1 and Cat-M2 devices as well as by ordinary LTE devices that implement support for LTE-M coverage enhancement modes.
Release 16 is targeted for completion in June 2020 and includes:
for LTE-M networks: work items looking at improved downlink (DL) and uplink (UL) transmission efficiency and/or UE power consumption, scheduling enhancements, extreme coverage for ordinary LTE UE, stand-alone deployment, further mobility enhancements, improved co-existence with New Radio (NR) and support for connection to the 5G core network.
For NB-IoT networks: work items looking at improved DL and UL transmission efficiency and/or UE power consumption, scheduling enhancements, network management tool enhancement, improved multi-carrier operation, further mobility enhancements, improved co-existence with NR and support for connection to the 5G core network.
IoT Global Ecosystem: April 2020
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