In the ever-evolving world of telecommunications, one constant remains: the love for acronyms. However, this affinity for shorthand poses a challenge as it often results in the loss of crucial details. For instance, when discussing IoT solutions with clients, it is not uncommon for them to request “LTE” for wireless connectivity, essentially asking for “broadband internet.” But how do we determine the most suitable means of delivering the desired connectivity solution? Should we opt for fiber connection, cable, or fixed wireless? Clearly, precision becomes essential in such conversations. The same applies when selecting the appropriate “flavor” of LTE for IoT applications.
What are the “Flavors” of LTE?
LTE technology encompasses two branches: one focused on higher speeds, facilitated by LTE-Advanced, and another dedicated to lower speeds, enabled by LTE-MTC (machine-type communications).
LTE – Advanced (CAT 6 and Beyond)
LTE-Advanced is widely available across numerous global networks, delivering an enhanced broadband experience characterized by faster speeds of up to 300 Mbps on the downlink. Within the LTE-Advanced standard, carrier aggregation (CA) allows the combination of multiple LTE carriers to achieve greater overall bandwidth, effectively increasing the speed of broadband connections.
LTE Cat 6 and subsequent iterations support high-throughput applications on mobile devices, making them well-suited for activities such as music and video streaming, as well as other bandwidth-intensive tasks. Moreover, CAT 6 and beyond modems are particularly advantageous for cost-effective mobile routers and hotspots that necessitate high-throughput connections to the cloud.
LTE – CAT 1
LTE Cat 1 stands as the most cost-effective LTE category while still delivering the necessary speeds to enable data streaming and unrestricted mobility. Boasting downlink speeds of 10 Mbps and uplink speeds of 5 Mbps, LTE Cat 1 finds its suitability in a range of M2M (machine-to-machine) and IoT (Internet of Things) applications. This includes scenarios that call for low-bit rate video streaming and voice support. Furthermore, numerous LTE Cat 1 devices offer the added benefit of 3G and 2G fallback connectivity.
LTE – CAT M
Officially referred to as CAT M1 (also known as LTE-M), this technology falls under the category of low-power wide-area (LPWA) solutions, specifically designed for transmitting low to medium volumes of data (ranging from 200 to 400 kbps) across extensive geographic areas.
LTE-M has been purposefully developed to leverage the existing infrastructure of LTE networks, resulting in modules that benefit from reduced complexity and the economies of scale driven by the widespread consumer adoption of LTE devices. By consuming minimal power, LTE-M significantly enhances the operational duration of battery-powered devices in the field. The accompanying table provides a comparative overview of the features offered by LTE-M and LTE Cat 1.
Cat 2 – NB-IOT
NarrowBand-Internet of Things (NB-IoT) is a standards-based low power wide area (LPWA) technology aimed at enabling a wide array of IoT devices and services. Notably, NB-IoT offers significant improvements in power consumption, system capacity, and spectrum efficiency, particularly in areas with extensive coverage. It supports an extended battery life of over 10 years, catering to a diverse range of use cases.
Between NB-IoT and LTE-M, NB-IoT is considered the less powerful option in terms of speed, data transfer capabilities, and support for fully mobile use cases. It is better suited for low-energy and low-power applications compared to LTE-M. By utilizing narrowband technology, which employs a narrower bandwidth (typically 200 kHz or 180 kHz), NB-IoT allows for denser transmission power and enhanced indoor penetration and coverage.
LTE-M, on the other hand, serves as the optimal choice for migrating legacy 2G and 3G M2M devices, as well as new use cases that demand higher bandwidth while emphasizing low power consumption for extended battery life.
However, the availability of these technologies must be taken into account. While LTE is prevalent in most countries, LTE-M and NB-IoT are still being deployed or not yet accessible in many regions. In such cases, LTE-M modems are often designed to fallback to 2G technology, which may affect the power consumption of IoT devices. It is advisable to collaborate with a connectivity solution provider to determine the available options for your deployment locations.
Hopefully, this provides you with a better understanding of the flavors of LTE, IOT connectivity solutions, and the applications to which they are suited!