Which flavor of LTE is best for your IOT application?
If there is one thing that never seems to change in the telecom world, it is the penchant for acronyms. One challenge with this acronym short hand is that important details can be lost with shortening the description to the fewest number of letters. For example, when talking to clients about IOT solutions, it is not unusual for the client to say I want “LTE” for my wireless connectivity. This is the equivalent of saying I want “broadband internet”! Should we use a fiber connection, cable, or fixed wireless to deliver the connectivity solution the client is looking for? Clearly, adding precision to the conversation becomes important. Same goes for choosing the right “flavor” of LTE for IoT applications.
What are the “flavors” of LTE?
LTE technology is split into a higher speed branch, supported by LTE-Advanced, and a lower speed branch, supported by LTE-MTC (machine-type communications).
LTE – Advanced (CAT 6 and Beyond)
LTE-Advanced is available through many networks around the world. It produces a faster and better broadband experience with speeds up to 300 Mbps on the downlink. As part of the LTE-Advanced standard, multiple LTE carriers can be combined to achieve greater total bandwidth in a process called carrier aggregation (CA). Carrier Aggregation is used in LTE-Advanced to increase bandwidth and thereby the deliver a faster broadband experience.
LTE Cat 6 and beyond supports high-throughput applications for mobile devices and is ideal for music and video streaming and other high bandwidth applications. In addition, CAT 6 and beyond modems are ideal for cost‑effective, high‑speed mobile routers / hotspots that require high throughput connections to the cloud.
LTE – CAT 1
LTE Cat 1 is the lowest-cost LTE category that still has the required speeds to support data streaming and full mobility. With speeds of 10 Mbps downlink and 5 Mbps uplink, LTE Cat 1 is ideal for M2M and IoT applications, including those that require low-bit rate video streaming and voice support. Many LTE Cat 1 devices also provide 3G and 2G fallback connectivity.
LTE – CAT M
Officially known as CAT M1 (also known as LTE-M), is a low-power wide-area (LPWA) technology that is designed for transferring low to medium amounts of data (200 – 400 kbps) across a wide geographical range.
LTE-M was also designed to rely on existing LTE network infrastructure. Because of this, LTE-M modules benefit not only from their lower complexity but also from the scale driven by consumer demand for LTE devices. With its low power requirements, LTE-M greatly improves the time that these battery-powered devices can spend in the field. The table below offers a feature comparison of LTE-M to LTE CAT 1.
Cat 2 – NB-IOT
NarrowBand-Internet of Things (NB-IoT) is a standards-based low power wide area (LPWA) technology developed to enable a wide range of new IoT devices and services. NB-IoT significantly improves the power consumption of user devices, system capacity, and spectrum efficiency, especially in deep coverage. A battery life of more than 10 years can be supported for a wide range of use cases.
Of the two NB-IoT and LTE-M, NB-IoT is the less ‘powerful’ one, in terms of speed, data transfer capabilities, and support for truly mobile use cases. NB-IoT is a better option and more suited for low energy and lower power usage than LTE-M. Since NB-IoT uses narrowband (or a narrower bandwidth and a single narrow band of 200KHz or 180KHz to be precise), it allows for an increased density of transmission power and that, along with other coverage enhancement capabilities, makes indoor penetration and overall reach better.
The bottom line for LTE-M is that it is the best choice when it comes to migrating legacy 2G and 3G M2M devices, but also for new use cases that require higher bandwidth while focusing on lower power consumption for increased battery life.
Of course, all the benefits of LTE-M and NB-IOT need to be balanced against the availability of the service. In most countries today, LTE is ubiquitous. However, in many parts of the world, LTE-M and NB-IOT are still either in deployment or not yet available. In many of these places, LTE-M modes are designed to “fall-back” to 2G technology. However, this will impact power consumption on your IOT device. So before choosing your modem, work with your connectivity solution provider to determine what choices are available in your deployment geographies.
Hopefully, this provides you with a better understanding the flavors of LTE, IOT connectivity solutions, and the applications to which they are suited!
Graphic Credit: Link Labs
SVP Mobile Product and Business Development
Bob is responsible for Globalgig’s strategic mobile product initiatives. Bob brings in-depth experience in mobile data solutions including IoT connectivity, private LTE/5G networks, and MVNOs. Prior to Globalgig, Bob held senior leadership positions at Federated Wireless, Kajeet, Nextel, and Nextel International. Bob holds a Bachelor of Science in Computer Science and MBA from the University of Pittsburgh.