• ZTE’s NB-IoT Massive-connection and multi-service Virtual-verification Platform (NMVP) evaluates network performance and provides optimization suggestions to the network.
• While ZTE claimed the platform to be the first in the industry, competitors can build a similar solution and match the capabilities in no time.
Growing NB-IoT Adoption
Since NB-IoT was finalized in 2016, carriers have been enabling the technology in their networks for IoT deployments. To date, there are around 100 commercial NB-IoT networks available across the world. However, with only over 100 supported devices and about 20 chipsets available, the adoption is still relatively low compared to other wireless technologies. GlobalData shows that only 1.5% of the total IoT deployments today are based on NB-IoT while cellular technologies (e.g., 2G, 3G, and 4G) and wireline are still largely used (~75% of the total connections). Most NB-IoT networks today are still underutilized. However ZTE’s home market of China is the global NB-IoT leader, and is a natural fit to debut this type of platform. As the ecosystem grows, more devices will be available in the market and connected in the network, driving the overall traffic in NB-IoT network. Carriers will eventually face network congestions in the network which may cause disruptions to IoT applications.
ZTE in a recent briefing shared its NMVP. The platform’s primary functions are to evaluate network performance and provide optimization suggestions to the network. This is achieved through simulations of real-life IoT applications from up to 500 devices across multiple services and locations. ZTE also shared some references for its NMVP. In a university in China, around 3,000 air conditioners are connected through an NB-IoT network. The devices had a very low access rate (25%) due to the network congestion caused by high signaling traffic. Most air conditioners could not operate as planned, causing discomfort to end users. The NMVP platform identified the unused messages in the signaling traffic and provided suggestions to optimize the radio resource allocation. As a result, the access rate has increased to over 80%, enabling almost all rooms to reach optimal temperature and driving users (i.e., lecturers and students) satisfaction. In another reference in the same country, NMVP evaluated an IoT deployment that connects 900 door locks and 1,800 water meters and suggested a new reporting format and frequency from the devices to the application platform without affecting its overall deployment objectives. With the suggested optimization parameters, the network capacity has improved by around five times.
The solution is innovative and will become a key requirement for carriers in their NB-IoT network optimization. While ZTE claimed NMVP to be the first in the industry, competitors such as Ericsson, Nokia, and Huawei have the expertise to build a similar solution and match its capabilities. Interoperability could also be another challenge. ZTE claimed to have done interoperability testing with other networks (e.g., ZTE NMVP with Huawei’s NB-IoT network), but the real integration always exposes various technical glitches and often takes weeks or months. There is also an integration challenge with the other systems such as the IoT platform. While some carriers have their own platforms, others use off-the-shelf ones such as Nokia IMPACT, Cisco Jasper, and Azure Hub.