IoT devices are often deployed in harsh environments (such as underground, underwater, at extreme temperatures/humidity, or where electricity is not available) and the most far-flung locations. In order to stay seamlessly and securely connected, they are instilled with rugged attributes (for example, with the removal of external ports and using water-, dust-, and fire-resistant shells), and incorporate a wide range of wireless technologies, for which NarrowBand-Internet of Things (NB-IoT) and Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) are among the most common.
NB-IoT is powerful, but not without its limitations
NB-IoT is widely applied across a diverse assortment of industries, due to its broad coverage and sky-high power efficiency. It works with short-range wireless communications technologies to ensure that IoT devices can interact with each other.
More specifically, NB-IoT is primarily responsible for transmitting and receiving IoT service data and control commands over lengthy distances. However, due to the need to minimize power consumption, as well as carrier network considerations, NB-IoT is generally not activated before real-world deployment. Therefore, short-range wireless technologies are required for onsite configuration, maintenance, and testing.
Among the short-range wireless technologies deployed in real-world applications, standards-based BLE stands head and shoulders above the competition, in terms of power efficiency and standardization. Infrared and proprietary wireless protocols are not universally accepted, pose power consumption-related challenges, and incur an additional customization and adaptation workload on handheld devices. Therefore, it's only natural that BLE has become the standard for wearable devices and smart home devices, and is rapidly gaining widespread acceptance in IoT applications.
BLE features the following attributes:
01 Power-friendly nature: Supports years of operation on battery-powered devices, with power consumption down to the μA level.
02 Standard-based: Interoperable with phones, tablets, and most BLE modules.
03 Easy-to-use: Communicates with BLE-capable NB-IoT devices via mobile apps.
|Handheld device development||Custom||Custom||Standard|
|Low power consumption||Y||X||Y|
|Ease of use||X||Y||Y|
A wide range of BLE real-world applications
BLE can be used as an effective supplement to NB-IoT in near-field communications. Below are some common scenarios:
- Production line testing and calibration before acceptance:
For example, BLE can be used to quickly test and calibrate NB-IoT water meters on the production line, before they are put into commercial use.
- On-site parameter configuration:
For instance, an NB-IoT parking sensor requires information related to the earth magnetic field changes (generated by presence of a vehicle) in the parking space, in order to work as intended. This is where a handheld device comes into the picture: It can help configure the magnetic field settings quickly via BLE communications.
Though NB-IoT chipsets allow for remote updating of central control software, remote updating does not work if the NB-IoT-capable devices are not connected to the cloud platform. In this case, BLE can be used for onsite maintenance and updating. This proves especially useful for devices in hard-to-reach locations, such as smoke sensors, parking sensors, and groundwater meters.
- Near-field communications:
NB-IoT with BLE integrated is another cutting-edge technological paradigm to support a diverse array of near-field communication scenarios, such as smart locks and bike-sharing.
Boudica 200: Short- and long-range communications technologies made cohesive
HiSilicon's Boudica 200 is a versatile chipset that supports computing, as well as long- and short-range communications. By integrating NB-IoT and BLE 5.0 capabilities into a compact design, the Boudica 200 strikes the right balance between cost, size, and power consumption considerations for IoT devices. It comes equipped to power a truly broad range of innovative applications and experiences. For example, the user can simply pay overdue water or gas bills by using a mobile app and turn on a shut-off valve via BLE.
The number of global NB-IoT connections is fast approaching 200 million, and the industry has entered a period of explosive growth. NB-IoT will continue to be embraced by a greater range of industries, which stand to benefit from evolving standards and improving technology. As a standout member in the NB-IoT portfolio, the Boudica 200 – which incorporates NB-IoT and BLE 5.0 in a truly unique way – is poised to unleash turbocharged growth in diverse industries, facilitate substantial improvements in service quality, cost efficiency, and productivity, and power a new era of digital development.