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NB-IoT NIDD Basics

An overview of the who, how and why of Non-IP Data Deliver in NB-IoT cellular services.

NB-IoT introduces support for NIDD – Non-IP Data Delivery (NIDD) which is one of the cool features of NB-IoT that’s gaining more widespread adoption.

Let’s take a deep dive into NIDD.

The case against IP for IoT

In the over 40 years since IP was standardized, we’ve shoehorned many things onto IP, but IP was never designed or optimized for low power, low throughput applications.

For the battery life of an IoT device to be measured in years, it has to be very selective about what power hungry operations it does. Transmitting data over the air is one of the most power-intensive operations an IoT device can perform, so we need to do everything we can to limit how much data is sent, and how frequently.

Use Case – NB-IoT Tap

Let’s imagine we’re launching an IoT tap that transmits information about water used, as part of our revolutionary new “Water as a Service” model (WaaS) which removes the capex for residents building their own water treatment plant in their homes, and instead allows dynamic scaling of waterloads as they move to our new opex model.

If I turn on the tap and use 12L of water, when I turn off the tap, our IoT tap encodes the usage onto a single byte and sends the usage information to our rain-cloud service provider.

So we’re not constantly changing the batteries in our taps, we need to send this one byte of data as efficiently as possible, so as to maximize the battery life.

If we were to transport our data on TCP, well we’d need a 3 way handshake and several messages just to transmit the data we want to send.

Let’s see how our one byte of data would look if we transported it on TCP.

That sliver of blue in the diagram is our usage component, the rest is overhead used to get it there. Seems wasteful huh?

Sure, TCP isn’t great for this you say, you should use UDP! But even if we moved away from TCP to UDP, we’ve still got the IPv4 header and the UDP header wasting 28 bytes.

For efficiency’s sake (To keep our batteries lasting as long as possible) we want to send as few messages as possible, and where we do have to send messages, keep them very short, so IP is not a great fit here.

Enter NIDD – Non-IP Data Delivery.

Through NIDD we can just send the single hex byte, only be charged for the single hex byte, and only stay transmitting long enough to send this single byte of hex (Plus the NBIoT overheads / headers).

Compared to UDP transport, NIDD provides us a reduction of 28 bytes of overhead for each message, or a 96% reduction in message size, which translates to real power savings for our IoT device.

In summary – the more sending your device has to do, the more battery it consumes.
So in a scenario where you’re trying to maximize power efficiency to keep your batter powered device running as long as possible, needing to transmit 28 bytes of wasted data to transport 1 byte of usable data, is a real waste.

Delivering the Payload

NIDD traffic is transported as raw hex data end to end, this means for our 1 byte of water usage data, the device would just send the hex value to be transferred and it’d pop out the other end.

To support this we introduce a new network element called the SCEFService Capability Exposure Function.

From a developer’s perspective, the SCEF is the gateway to our IoT devices. Through the RESTful API on the SCEF (T8 API), we can send and receive raw hex data to any of our IoT devices.

When one of our Water-as-a-Service Taps sends usage data as a hex byte, it’s the software talking on the T8 API to the SCEF that receives this data.

Data of course needs to be addressed, so we know where it’s coming from / going to, and T8 handles this, as well as message reliability, etc, etc.

This is a telco blog, so we should probably cover the MME connection, the MME talks via Diameter to the SCEF. In our next post we’ll go into these signaling flows in more detail.

If you’re wondering what the status of Open Source SCEF implementations are, then you may have already guessed I’m working on one!

Hopefully by now you’ve got a bit of an idea of how NIDD works in NB-IoT, and in our next posts we’ll dig deeper into the flows and look at some PCAPs together.

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