Looking to develop NB-IoT technology?
Building smart cities is contributing to the acceleration of the maturity of commercial applications of low-power wide-area networks (LPWAN). Among the mainstream LPWAN technologies of today, NB-IoT is undoubtedly the one that has received the most attention. Narrowband-IoT (NB-IoT) is a technology standard developed by 3GPP to work in licensed bands. It holds a key position in the evolution of cellular mobile communication technologies (between LTE and 5G), and has therefore been gaining followers among wireless communications service providers since day one.
For example, China Mobile completed continuous NB-IoT coverage in 346 cities by the end of 2017, and 33 global commercial NB-IoT networks were deployed by the end of February 2018. In order to capture market opportunities, many telecommunications service providers spare no expense in offering large subsidies to promote the quick maturity of NB-IoT systems.
Faced with this rare opportunity, IoT developers are working day and night to find ways to quickly develop NB-IoT products and solutions, and to provide sufficient fuel for commercial deployment. In order to be able to engage fully in the battle of the NB-IoT market without worries, it is necessary to have an easy-to-use piece of equipment or development tool. Therefore, Avnet has developed a series of NB-IoT design platforms that are designed to meet the developers' every need.
Like any good design platform, the Avnet NB-IoT development tool is based on functionality and extensibility, and aims to adapt to the application development needs of different scenarios. Let's take a look.
If you want to explore the development of various IoT applications, the following development board may be exactly what you are looking for. The on-board resources include an NB-IoT communication module, master MCU, on-board accelerator and humidity sensor, and optional BLE 4.2 wireless features. It also provides Arduino Uno and ST morpho slots that enable connections to even more functional modules.
Such a configuration is sufficient to meet the demands of common LPWAN application development for smart metering, home automation, security, smart street lights, smart parking, smart locks for bike sharing, and portable health monitoring equipment.
Figure 1. Avnet NB-IoT single board development platform (source: Avnet)
Figure 2. Avnet NB-IoT single board development platform block diagram (source: Avnet)
NB-IoT uses different bands in different countries and regions. If the need exists for developers to customize products for regional markets, the Avnet single board development platform offers various optional BC95 NB-IoT modules (see Table 1 for a list of optional modules) from Quectel.
Furthermore, depending on their functional requirements, users are able to choose between different 32-bit MCUs – either the Contex-M0-based ST32L072 or the Contex-M4-based ST32L476. As a result, it is now possible for developers to have a customized NB-IoT development board.
Table 1. The Avnet NB-IoT single board development platform offers three optional NB-IoT modules in different bands to match the requirements of regional markets (source: Quectel)
The following development kit provides the answer for developers who wish to be able to support NB-IoT applications in different bands worldwide on the same development platform. The kit consists of an MCU and a pluggable NB-IoT module extension board. The secret behind its compatibility with global NB-IoT in different bands lies in the NB-IoT module.
Although the development kit is also made by Quectel, is uses NB-IoT modules with the model number BC95-G. The "G" at the end stands for "Global." It supports main LTE bands, including B1/B3/B8/B5/B20/B28.
Figure 3. Avnet starter's global multi-band NB-IoT development platform (source: Avnet)
This kit comes with the AVR 8-bit MCU (ATme- ga2560). The MCU is not the most powerful of its kind, which is why the development platform is positioned as a NB-IoT starter's kit. However, with other resources, including 256KB or 8KB RAM, USB ports, 4 UARTs, 5 SPIs, 1 I2C, and support for external GPS modules and temperature/humidity sensors, the kit succeeds in offering a little bit of everything. Someone attempting to build an NB-IoT prototype would likely find it to be more than adequate.
Figure 4. Avnet starter's global multi-band NB-IoT development platform block diagram (source: Avnet)
Developers familiar with LPWAN technologies will know that there is another 3GPP LPWAN standard in licensed bands in addition to NB-IoT, namely eMTC (Cat.M1). Each standard has its own advantages and excel in different applications, and so most telecommunication operators take the approach of investing equally in both when it comes to network construction and deployment. As a result, this has given rise to a unique demand, i.e. the ability to support multiple wireless data communication modules, including NB-IoT, eMTC, and EGPRS, in the same project.
In order to meet this demand, Avnet has launched an NB-IoT sensor extension board that comes with a full range of functions. The strength of the extension board in terms of support for multiple wireless communication modules benefits from its use of Quectel's modulation and demodulation module – BG96. It supports different bands for NB-IoT/eMTC (B1, B2, B3, B4, B5, B8, B12, B13, B18, B19, B20, B26, B28, and B39; B39 only supports eMTC) and EGPRS (850/900/1800/1900 MHz), while also supporting various satellite positioning systems (GPS, GLONASS, BeiDou, Galileo, and QZSS).
The NB-IoT sensor extension board is equipped with four Pmod interfaces for better extensibility. This development board can be used as an extension board that connects with the STM32 Nucleo-L476 RG development board and the ST X-NUCLEO-IKS01A2 MEMS 3D accelerator and 3D gyroscope extension boards, to form a complete IoT development system.
At the same time, it also supports mainstream embedded operating systems, such as Android, Linux, and Windows, as well as IoT specific mbed OS, in order to satisfy IoT applications with more rigorous requirements on real-time responses.
Figure 5. Multi-module NB-IoT sensor extension board (source: Avnet)
Figure 6. Multi-module NB-IoT sensor extension board block diagram (source: Avnet)
It is clear that the Avnet NB-IoT development tools above provide all the building blocks of a complete system that supports multiple bands, multiple communication modules, and customization in various application scenarios. Do you have an idea for NB-IoT development? There is always a right tool that can satisfy all of your demands and help you with your LPWAN design.
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