Pervasive Computing Drives Narrowband Shift in a Broadband Market

Oddly enough, in an industry where the direction of technology development has been towards more and more capacity (“broadband”), the next wave of development includes a key focus on “narrowband” capacity (below 1.5 Mbps, and often in hundreds of kiloHertz per second, not megabits or gigabits per second).

But there are other differences. For the first time, device battery life is among the platform design goals, as well as end user device cost.

Also, though the mobile industry has been based on use of licensed spectrum, there now is a move towards greater use of unlicensed spectrum, in whole or in part.

Also, 5G networks are being designed with the business model for pervasive computing in mind.

Long battery life of more than 10 years is a universal design goal for all the proposed IoT networks. The reason is that the labor cost to replace batteries in the field is too high to support the expected business model.

Also, in a pervasive computing environment, low device cost below US$5 for each module is important as deployment volumes are expected to be in the billions of devices range, and many will add value only when deployment costs per unit are quite small.

At the same time, low deployment cost to reduce operating expense is necessary, again to support a business model that often requires very low capital investment and operating cost.

Coverage requirements also are different. Mobile networks always have been designed for operation “above ground.” That is not always the case for IoT deployments, which will happen in  reception challenging areas such as basements, parking garages or  tunnels.

IoT transmitter locations also will be expected to support a massive number of devices, perhaps up to 40 devices per household or 50,000 connections per cell, or roughly 1250 homes per IoT cell location, assuming mostly stationary devices are supported.

That is a transmitter density about 10 times greater than the designed coverage area  of a “typical” fixed network central office serving area.

But some matters do not change: the crucial unknown is the ability of new platforms for internet of things (based on use of 5G networks or other low-power, wide-area networks) to support and enable huge new businesses based on pervasive computing and communications.

The 3GPP specifies maximum coupling loss (MCL), a measure of coverage, in the 160 dB range, including signal loss from all sources in the link.

Note the difference in platform availability. The low-power, wide-area platforms are commercially available now. The mobile-based platforms will be commercialized, or have been activated by some tier-one carriers, this year (2017).

As often is the case, challengers enter markets before the legacy mobile or telco suppliers can respond. In the past, scale has mattered, however, and the legacy providers eventually have taken leadership of those new markets, even when the telcos were not “first to market.”


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