The rise of the robots: why machines on the move need NB-IoT

There was a time when telecoms only really involved connecting people with other people. Operators focused on getting telephones into the hands of human consumers, and via these, connecting humans to humans. Then, things went digital. While humans were still connecting to humans, we were also connecting to a huge range of devices. Operators doubled down on mobile roaming, meaning humans and devices could access communications services on an increasingly global scale. Now, we’re in the era of machines and they have a lot to say. The ability to embed connectivity into ‘things’, and to then manage these assets, is getting easier and more affordable. According to Ericsson, the number of massive IoT connections NB-IoT (more on which later) and Cat-M tripled in 2019. As such, a growing number of businesses from a wider pool of vertical sectors are benefitting from the business efficiencies of IoT. Think of the automotive industry, for instance. A manufacturer can use machine-to-machine (M2M) connectivity to speed up production lines, reduce energy use and costs, ensure consistency in quality, monitor equipment, and more! The rise of the robots – and their global domination – hasn’t been without its challenges, though. While there were standards and protocols for connecting telephones and humans, there hasn’t been the same consensus around how best to connect the ‘t’ of the IoT. To allow businesses to capitalise on M2M connectivity and IoT, operators need to support millions of sensors and devices. Many of these (such as utilities metres, water quality gauges, industrial thermometers, parking metres) don’t transmit huge amounts of data. They do, however, need to remain ‘always on’ over very long time periods. One potential solution is NB-IoT. Standardised by the 3GPP, NB-IoT is a licensed Low Power Wide Area Network (LPWAN) technology designed for mobile operators to provide connectivity to a vast range of devices. By the end of 2025, NB-IoT and Cat-M (another LPWAN technology) are projected to account for 52% of all cellular IoT connections. Again, this prediction comes from Ericsson, who – along with the likes of Vodafone and the GSMA’s Mobile IoT Forum – is backing the technology. As with any solution or innovation in the tech sector, NB-IoT has proven divisive. Yet the benefits remain clear, both for current applications and supporting future use cases. Ideal for devices that need small amounts of data, low bandwidth and long battery life, NB-IoT is capable of connecting the machine-‘manned’ factories of the future. Underpinning this growth is mobile roaming. The rise of the robots is happening on a global scale, with devices needing to cross borders, and remain connected wherever they travel. It’s for this reason that Kaleido estimates that there will be around 427 million roaming M2M connections by the end of 2024. Hardware manufacturers need to be sure they can deploy new IoT solutions to an international market. Businesses need to be able to quickly launch and manage IoT propositions. And operators need to support all of the above with NB-IoT roaming services. Across the world there is growing support for NB-IoT this year, with the global private narrowband- Internet of Things (NB-IoT) Market expected to register a steady expansion at a CAGR of 92.1% between 2020 and 2025. It’s not only operators that are backing NB-IoT. Manufacturers, business owners and technology vendors are also coming together to create solutions that exploit the standard for maximum returns and to deliver a consistent quality of service. Solutions provider Avnet Silica, for instance, is now using BICS’ SIM for Things IoT global solution to provide 2G, 3G, 4G, NB-IoT and LTE-M/Cat-M1 connectivity for its OEM customers. By connecting to our global network and using Avnet Silica’s eUICC (Embedded Universal Integrated Circuit Card) technology, the company’s customers can connect their IoT devices to more than 700 mobile operators around the world, and easily switch networks depending on quality and coverage. Manufacturers can benefit from one of the world’s largest NB-IoT/LTE-M technology coverage providers, where BICS offers connectivity in 30 countries, allowing for lower power consumption, easy provisioning, and creating new commercial opportunities. BICS is primed to help operators to deploy NB-IoT technology and leverage our partnerships with leading electronics and device manufactures to create new business opportunities. Equipped with the right intelligence and insight, we’re helping to open new roaming revenue streams for operators around the world. And helping more robots roam free!