The NB-IoT LPWAN radio technology is a great solution for many IoT applications because it leverages long-proven cellular radio technology and infrastructure that is supported by numerous cellular providers worldwide. Furthermore, NB-IoT has good security, and it is an LTE specification from 3GPP, which gives it substantial technical momentum for evolution today and in the future. Learn more about NB-IoT design and test challenges.
However, NB-IoT is not the right solution for every IoT application, and you should consider the information below to determine whether other LPWAN technologies might better suit your application context and objectives. Note, however, that a technology that has an advantage over NB-IoT in one area may have a significant disadvantage in another area. Selecting an IoT radio technology involves a complex set of tradeoffs.
Coverage area: One reason that NB-IoT may not be the best choice is that your application is in an area with no or poor LTE cellular coverage; perhaps the cellular technology is GSM or CDMA, which is incompatible with NB-IoT. One LPWAN alternative, long range WiFi has been proven to work at over 350 km in certain cases. To be fair, very long range WiFi is not common, but it is relatively straightforward to achieve distances over 20 km with inexpensive, readily available hardware.
Even if you are in an area with good LTE coverage for cellular IoT, you may find that a solution specifically designed for IoT is already readily available. One example is Sigfox, which is widely available in Europe. Sigfox has an established presence for IoT connectivity, and its radio modules are less expensive than those used for NB-IoT.
Customizability and Control: Another reason that you might prefer an LPWAN solution other than NB-IoT is customizability and control. You may want or require the flexibility that comes from keeping all configuration and capacity expansion decisions in house, rather than being constrained by the NB-IoT standard and operators.
Perhaps you are limited in funds, but you have a technical staff with the capabilities to design and maintain custom software or hardware optimized for your particular application challenges. A university or research consortium with a substantial pool of graduate students would likely fail into this category. The cost of the technical staff may be less than the ongoing wireless data expense of NB-IoT.
Finally, you may want or need to use a vendor-provided API to create tailored software for your application. Companies such as Telensa offer LPWAN solutions with this sort of flexibility.
In short, NB-IoT is a powerful and robust LPWAN solution that takes advantage of existing infrastructure and technical momentum. In some situations, however, it may not be the best choice. We will consider this topic further in the next blog post.