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Skoltech develops OpenUNB: a new open data transfer standard for the Internet of Things

A team of specialists from the Skoltech-based NTI Competence Center for Wireless and Internet of Things (NTI CC) has created a standard for the “Wireless Data Transfer Protocol for High-Capacity Networks Based on Ultra-Narrowband Radio Signal Modulation” OpenUNB (Open Ultra-Narrowband).

Skoltech develops OpenUNB: a new open data transfer standard for the Internet of Things

A team of specialists from the Skoltech-based NTI Competence Center for Wireless and Internet of Things (NTI CC) has created a standard for the “Wireless Data Transfer Protocol for High-Capacity Networks Based on Ultra-Narrowband Radio Signal Modulation” OpenUNB (Open Ultra-Narrowband). It allows organizing radio channels between a large number of transmitting devices and network gateways, as well as easily integrating smart meters from different manufacturers into a single system.

Now on the Russian market there are several manufacturers of “smart” metering devices for housing and communal services. Each of them offers its own unique radio communication protocol that allows the meter to transmit data on the consumption of water, gas or electricity by end users, or receive a command from a central control system. Most of these protocols are closed, and almost all of them are incompatible with each other, which leads to serious difficulties in building complex accounting and control systems in housing and communal services using equipment from different suppliers, as well as additional costs for management companies to purchase base stations and other highly specialized radio equipment. In most countries of the world, this problem is solved by the introduction of a single open national communication standard,

The head of the NTI Central Committee Dmitry Lakontsev:  “Another reason here is purely economic. Business cases in the field of the Internet of Things are often low-margin, which is why it is extremely important to make the connection of end devices, for example, smart meters, to the network as cheap as possible, which makes available radio communication protocols a key element of IoT systems. There are now different communication protocols for long-range energy efficient networks (LPWANs). This is both LoRaWAN and NB-IoT, but only one niche – ultra-narrowband  class (UNB) protocols – lacks an adequate open solution. Therefore, our Competence Center set itself the task of developing a draft of an open national national standard UNB.

Previously, the most successful proprietary protocol of this class was created by the French company Sigfox. The Russian company Strizh is also developing its closed ultra-narrowband protocol XNB. The first attempt to create an open UNB protocol standard in Russia was NB-Fi from WAVIoT. However, experts considered a number of technical solutions used in it controversial, and the standard itself is strongly focused on a single vendor company, which extremely complicates its implementation by any other company. Only a truly open protocol with freely available implementation will allow us to form an ecosystem of companies in our country that produce solutions with fully compatible communication technology ”.

Unlike other protocols, in the OpenUNB standard, not only the upstream channel (from the sensor to the gateway) is well developed, but also the downstream one, which allows you to control the operation of the control device. Usually, a signal at frequencies of about 868 MHz in ultra-narrow channels “floats away” – the command transmitted to the sensor may simply not fall into its current reception width. OpenUNB provides a correction algorithm to ensure that downlink signals are transmitted.

Another advantage: the spectral parameters of the signal are fully described, which are absent in competing standards, which leads to strong “spurious” radiation of the devices using them. And this, in turn, significantly pollutes the radio air. OpenUNB takes into account the peculiarities of radio signal transmission, which reduces out-of-band emissions and allows efficient use of the frequency spectrum.

Also, OpenUNB is harmonized with domestic (“Grasshopper”) and international encryption standards (Advanced Encryption Standard, AES), while other protocols do not always use well-known and reliable encryption algorithms, which raises questions about both their resistance to cybercriminal attacks and the possibility of transferring access rights to data to third parties.

In addition, for example, the Strizh’s proprietary XNB protocol is focused on the use of dedicated licensed frequencies, which guarantee that there are no other operating devices in this range. OpenUNB allows you to work in both licensed and unlicensed range, which significantly increases the flexibility of systems built on its basis.

But most importantly, when using OpenUNB, a minimum amount of power is required to transfer one bit of information. Now it is the most energy-saving protocol, which is critically important for IoT systems in housing and communal services, since usually the meters are powered only from the built-in battery, which should be enough for several years of continuous operation.

The NTI Central Committee “Technologies of Wireless Communication and the Internet of Things” will soon publish the OpenUNB standard on a special portal, so that the widest possible circle of experts can get acquainted with it and formulate their critical remarks. After that, the specialists of the center will conduct a series of seminars and public discussions of the standard to refine and develop it. It takes three months to collect feedback from industry professionals.

Technical Committee 194 “Cyber-physical systems” provided great support in the creation of a new draft national standard for the information transfer protocol for the Internet of Things. As its chairman, head of RVC programs Nikita Utkin noted  :  “Earlier we already actively helped in the development of the NB-Fi standard, initiated an active discussion with the involvement of all leading experts. Thanks to our efforts, it was approved by Rosstandart at the beginning of 2019 as a preliminary national standard. However, we believe there should be a complete family of IoT standards and protocols on the market. Each of them has the opportunity to become a national standard and find practical application. “