Cellular technology, especially concerning the Internet of Things (IoT), has transformed dramatically over the past five to ten years. As new LTE technologies emerge, older ones – including 2G and 3G – become outdated and, eventually, obsolete. In fact, nearly all major North American carriers are planning to shut down their 2G and even 3G networks over the next three to five years. Businesses reliant on IoT technology are forced to adapt, upgrade, or replace their connectivity modules, at minimum, if not their devices entirely to embrace these cellular technology evolutions and migrate to LTE. Understanding which connectivity technology will be most beneficial to your organization starts with a baseline of the capabilities you need. Outlining your expectations can help determine which variety of LTE is right for your business.
LTE technology came from a need to transmit more data, more rapidly for consumer-focused devices such as smartphones and tablets. But most businesses leveraging IoT devices have neither the need for such high-capability technology nor the ability to operate at the resulting price points. New low power LTE options, also called LPWAN, are a great middle ground; they boast impressively low power consumption, improved coverage areas, and overall lifespan, making it ideal for most IoT devices. However, not all low power LTE varieties are created equal. When choosing the right connectivity technology for your business, make sure to consider your bandwidth needs, capability requirements, and ideal module pricing.
The amount of data you plan to transfer and the speed with which you need that transfer to happen will directly affect the bandwidth capabilities you should look for. If you’re only transferring a small amount of data each month, NB-IoT is often more than enough, allowing approximately 200 kHz. There’s an impressive jump as you move to LTE Cat-M1 and even more so in LTE Cat 1, with a top-end limit of 1.4 MHz and 20 MHz each, respectively. For more robust bandwidth usage, you’ll need to explore LTE Cat 6, which doubles the limit of its counterparts at 40 MHz. With the exception of telemedicine applications that require live video streaming or other similar high bandwidth use cases, most IoT devices won’t transmit nearly enough data monthly to warrant the top-end limits Cat 6 provides. However, establishing your bandwidth needs is an important first step in identifying which LTE category is optimal for your device performance.
While the practical application of your IoT devices will impact the amount of bandwidth you need to use on a monthly basis, another thing to consider is the exact features you need. Do you need your device to send and receive data or is one-way data transfer enough? Will your devices be mobile and require a swift, seamless handoff from one network to another? Or will they remain stationary, with little to no need for mobility support? What about voice enablement? If you don’t need those capabilities, NB-IoT is a great fit. Since these additional features require additional functionality to operate, you’ll see a correlation between the two. The downside is that these additional capabilities will adversely affect your device’s battery life. The more robust and complex your device, the shorter the battery life you can expect.
Simply put, as your needs and requirements increase, so to do your associated costs. If your IoT devices aren’t going to need high bandwidth capabilities and don’t need full duplex data transfers, you could easily opt for more cost-effective solutions like NB-IoT or LTE Cat-M1. Each hovers between $5-20 per module and are ideal for simple use cases. Along with this lower price point, however, you risk losing aspects of your mobility support. For more robust bandwidth usage and full mobility support, options like LTE Cat 4 or Cat 6 are more likely to fit the bill. These varieties greatly increase the per-module cost and will often run upwards of $40-50.
With even more factors to consider, picking the right LTE solution for your IoT needs gets complicated. Ultimately, as other technologies sunset, LTE is a much more future-proofed option. Its end-to-end secure connectivity and the ability to scale and support a large number of devices over a wide geographic area will allow you to grow your business and keep up with the pace of innovation. Working with a trusted advisor who is experienced in the IoT connectivity space will help you navigate your options and find the technology that will best fit your unique business goals and ensure a seamless migration. Download the full e-book: How to Navigate Emerging LTE Technologies for IoT to access the full LTE comparison matrix and identify the right LTE technology for your needs.