When you think about how LTE has furthered the capabilities of IoT applications, what features typically come to mind? Speed, advanced capabilities, and bandwidth are likely at the top of the list, and are commonly associated with the higher speed traditional categories of LTE such as: Category 1 (Cat-1), Category 4 (Cat-4), and Category 6 (Cat-6).
Cat-1 is suited for providing connectivity for applications such as retail kiosks, digital signage, and ATMs, while Cat-4 and Cat-6 easily support more complex needs like streaming video, enterprise routers, and network bridges. LTE’s capabilities have been a great advancement for those requiring a high-power solution, but that is not the case for all.
As North American carriers began to sunset their 2G and 3G networks, many IoT businesses deploying applications requiring lower bandwidth were left scrambling to find a solution that served their needs, and until recently, LTE did not fit the bill. The increased speeds and higher bandwidth were not necessary and came at a price point that made the ROI more challenging. These organizations needed a fuel-efficient sedan, but the only option available was a Formula 1 racecar.
The industry has responded with the introduction of LTE technologies with lower throughput speeds, power and cost – Category NB1 (NB IoT) and Category M1 (Cat-M) – which reduce the cost of modules and reduce power consumption, while extending battery life. As a result, organizations, regardless of the requirements of their applications, are now covered by LTE. Here’s a closer look at the low power options:
For applications that don’t move while in use and only require minimal bandwidth, NB IoT is a great option. It does not support full mobility (i.e. handoff between towers), but it does not need to, because assets are relatively stationary. Uses for NB IoT include street lighting, industrial monitors, parking and utility meters, heavy equipment tracking, and alarm panels.
It is important to note that while NB IoT may not be mobile, it is transportable. If an asset leveraging NB IoT technology changes locations, connectivity can be re-established with the nearest tower once stationary. Think of a moving company that provides containers as an option for transporting assets. They want to know whether or not the container has been dropped off at the customer’s location and when it has been picked up for delivery. NB IoT can pinpoint its resting location.
But what about its “in-transit” status once the pod is mobile? There is an LTE technology for that, too.
For uses that require a little more bandwidth, but do not require the advanced features of Cat-1, Cat-4, or Cat-6, there is Cat-M. Cat-M fully supports legacy IoT and M2M applications, offering four times the throughput with 50 percent of the battery life as NB IoT. Cat-M is a great option for mobile tracking use cases, such as fleet management, as it can jump from tower to tower without losing connectivity. It is also a great option for applications including building security and management, wearables, and remote patient monitoring.
Take the previous example: If the moving company needs to know if the containers have been dropped off or picked up as well as the in-transit status of the truck carrying the container in real time, then Cat-M would be a better solution.
Understanding which category of LTE is best for your organization is critical to deploying a future-proofed IoT application that efficiently drives your business while keeping costs in mind.