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What is LTE-M? Reliable Cellular Connectivity for IoT

6 minute read

Low power wide area (LPWA) networks are anticipated to be a strong, driving force within the next decade of IoT adoption and deployment. The two technologies, Narrowband IoT (NB-IoT) and Long Term Machine Type Evolution (LTE-M), both provide benefits of LPWA, including low device unit cost, improved outdoor and indoor penetration coverage compared to existing wide area technologies, secure connectivity and authentication, optimized data transfer, simplified network deployment, and network scalability, according to the GSMA. These benefits offer the potential to largely contribute to Massive IoT – which is large-scale deployments of low complexity devices driving analytics in fields such as logistics, agriculture, retail, and more.

ABI Research estimates that by 2026, LTE-M, as well as NB-IoT, networks will contribute to 60 percent of the projected 3.6 million LPWA connections. Globally, there are 60 LTE-M networks and these networks are viable options in both Europe and North America.

IoT Analytics expects that NB-IoT and LoRa/LoRaWAN will continue to dominate the market in the coming five years, while LTE-M and Sigfox settle in third and fourth places, respectively. Many European countries have prioritized LTE-M deployments over NB-IoT, whereas North America has prioritized LTE-M. But with rapidly advancing network sunsets both in North America and, soon after, Europe, having both LTE-M and NB-IoT as viable options to migrate from 2G and 3G to LPWA offers the opportunity to migrate networks without necessarily having to replace hardware.

Characteristics of LTE-M

With two similar connectivity technologies categorized as LPWA, what makes LTE-M different from NB-IoT? LTE-M, in addition to NB-IoT, is part of a broader 3GPP standard, which ultimately was designed to make IoT more attainable through both interoperability and reliability. Many IoT solutions require lower data transmissions with less frequency – meaning 4G LTE or 5G wouldn’t be a good fit. To further that point, many IoT solutions are in motion, in remote locations, or widespread so a long battery life is valued. Both LPWA technologies offer the reliability of cellular connectivity, while optimizing battery life and coverage.

LTE-M is an IP-based communications protocol and is designed for higher bandwidth or mobile and roaming applications compared to NB-IoT. LTE-M is designed to have the similar benefits of NB-IoT in wide coverage and low power consumption, while offering a higher degree of complexity in the ability to enable Voice over LTE (VoLTE) for voice applications.

Overall, the advantages of LTE-M are:

  • The use of TCP/IP allows it to be connected to any server
  • Interoperable and compatible with LTE networks
  • Lower latency than NB-IoT
  • Supports VoLTE
  • Works well either stationary or mobile

These characteristics can benefit the following use cases:

  • Fleet and asset tracking
  • Smart metering for utilities
  • Point of sale devices
  • People and pet tracking
  • Wearables

What’s the Difference Between LTE-M and NB-IoT?

LTE-M and NB-IoT are quite close in similarity, so when choosing between the two, it boils down to the complexity and requirements of a solution and how each technology’s characteristics can benefit the specific use case. What it’s narrowed down to, at a high level, is the complexity of the device, whether it’s fixed or mobile, and whether the device needs voice capability.

LTE-M devices will be slightly more expensive than NB-IoT due to their higher complexity in supporting VoLTE and the fact that it can support mobile communications by not dropping data packets. The connectivity itself is likely to be slightly more expensive, as well, because it has a slightly better latency than NB-IoT. Additionally, battery life might not last quite as long – though this is measured marginally – because LTE-M can support carrier firmware upgrades, which consumes more power.

The IoT Connectivity You Need, Simplified

KORE offers a wide range of connectivity solutions, including NB-IoT, LTE-M, LoRaWAN, 4G LTE, and 5G, as well as satellite services. Our unified approach to connectivity through strategic carrier partnerships allows us to offer multi-network and multi-technology connectivity simplified. Our streamlined connectivity management platform, ConnectivityProTM, makes it easy to deploy and manage connectivity, and our suite of OmniSIMTM solutions unlocks global, future-proofed connectivity.

Get more details on the connectivity powering the emerging Massive IoT trend in this KORE webinar, “LPWA IoT Technology Advantages – Catching the Wave.”

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