LTE is tuning up for tiny IoT devices

New software from Ericsson will include an emerging cellular standard for things that don't use much data

Cellular network software that Ericsson announced at CES may help small, battery-powered devices like smartwatches and pet trackers get online and work longer without a recharge in a few years.

It goes by the ungainly name of Ericsson Networks Software 17A for Massive IoT, but it has features for connecting the smallest of devices without making them use up too much power. Many of those will be meters and machines for cities and companies, but some could be long-lasting wearables and consumer gadgets of the future. 

Cellular networks were built to give smartphones as much speed as possible. Now they're being adapted to trickle data to and from new kinds of things. Those could include street lights and parking meters, industrial machinery, and various consumer gadgets like clip-on devices that tell you where your stuff is.

"Anything that doesn't require a lot of connections to the network or a lot of data, but you don't want to be changing the battery very often" is how analyst Peter Jarich of Current Analysis puts it.

Enter NB-IoT (narrowband Internet of Things), a variant of LTE that can be deployed on current networks as a software upgrade. It will let millions of Internet of Things devices connect to the same cell, far more than today's base stations can serve. And along with features in Ericsson's upcoming software, it will let devices work for 10 years on a battery, the company says.

Importantly, Ericsson has at least one big customer: AT&T says it is committed to using NB-IoT, though it hasn't given a roadmap for rolling it out.

NB-IoT is up against competing systems from specialist LPWAN (low-power wide-area network) companies like SigFox and Ingenu. They're already in use, while the cellular industry is still trying to turn NB-IoT into a standard. The competition should help to get cell companies on the ball about building good IoT networks, analysts say. They don't expect it to be finished for at least a year.

Upstart technologies give big IoT users some freedom to choose a service provider other than the usual mobile carriers, Jarich said. They're especially good news for cities, which only need local service and don't have to wait until these fledgling companies achieve nationwide coverage and overseas roaming, he said.

Companies like SigFox and Ingenu probably won't try to act like big mobile carriers and sell service to consumers, so NB-IoT or something like it may be coming to wearables and other small devices in the coming years, Jarich said.

Some of that has already started with earlier variants of LTE. Verizon Wireless says it's already connecting devices that use the low-power specifications LTE Category 0 and LTE Category 1. Meanwhile, AT&T says it will use a protocol called LTE-M (also included in Ericsson's software) in addition to NB-IoT. Moves by big operators like these will help give cellular tools for IoT the scale they need to compete against the specialized networks, Jarich said.

Join the newsletter!

Or

Sign up to gain exclusive access to email subscriptions, event invitations, competitions, giveaways, and much more.

Membership is free, and your security and privacy remain protected. View our privacy policy before signing up.

Error: Please check your email address.

Tags CES 2016

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Stephen Lawson

IDG News Service
Show Comments

Brand Post

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Luke Hill

MSI GT75 TITAN

I need power and lots of it. As a Front End Web developer anything less just won’t cut it which is why the MSI GT75 is an outstanding laptop for me. It’s a sleek and futuristic looking, high quality, beast that has a touch of sci-fi flare about it.

Emily Tyson

MSI GE63 Raider

If you’re looking to invest in your next work horse laptop for work or home use, you can’t go wrong with the MSI GE63.

Laura Johnston

MSI GS65 Stealth Thin

If you can afford the price tag, it is well worth the money. It out performs any other laptop I have tried for gaming, and the transportable design and incredible display also make it ideal for work.

Andrew Teoh

Brother MFC-L9570CDW Multifunction Printer

Touch screen visibility and operation was great and easy to navigate. Each menu and sub-menu was in an understandable order and category

Louise Coady

Brother MFC-L9570CDW Multifunction Printer

The printer was convenient, produced clear and vibrant images and was very easy to use

Edwina Hargreaves

WD My Cloud Home

I would recommend this device for families and small businesses who want one safe place to store all their important digital content and a way to easily share it with friends, family, business partners, or customers.

Featured Content

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?