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U-Blox announces NB-IoT module

Steve Rogerson
June 30, 2016



Swiss manufacturer U-Blox has announced the Sara-N2 narrow-band IoT (NB-IoT) module, claimed to be the world's first cellular radio module compliant to the 3GPP Release 13, NB-IoT (LTE Cat NB1) standard.
 
For use in applications such as smart buildings and cities, utilities metering, white goods, asset tracking, and agricultural and environmental monitoring, the module will operate for between ten and twenty years from a single-cell primary battery. Its 16 by 26mm LGA form factor, using the company’s nested architecture, facilitates simple upgrades from U-Blox GSM, HSPA or CDMA modules and ensures future-proof, seamless mechanical scalability across technologies.
 
The module provides secure, private communications over licensed spectrum with guaranteed quality of service. It supports peak downlink rates of up to 227kbit/s and uplink rates of up to 21kbit/s. Simultaneous support for three RF bands means the same module can be used in most geographic regions.
 
The benefits of NB-IoT over other cellular radio technologies include lower device complexity, ultra-low power operation and support for up to 150,000 devices per single cellular cell. Most significantly, the technology offers a 20dB link budget improvement over GPRS to give performance under poor coverage conditions such as underground or inside buildings.
 
Compared with unlicensed spectrum low-power wide area (LPWA) systems, NB-IoT provides more security and freedom from interference because it uses a licensed spectrum based network. Other advantages include lower latency than mesh networks, thanks to its point-to-point topology, the ability to run it adjacent to existing 2G and LTE networks – it needs just 200kHz of bandwidth – and a higher transmit power limit, which improves reliability and range.
 
It also allows for robust two-way communications, which means features such as firmware upgrade over the air are achievable. Furthermore, global roaming is possible with NB-IoT, which is not the case with localised unlicensed spectrum based technologies.
 
Samples of the module are scheduled for late 2016, with full production planned for early 2017.