Cellular IoT is gaining momentum. The licensed Low Power Wide Area Network (LPWAN) technologies are widely available today. 60 operators already claim to have LTE-M coverage, 110 operators have NB-IoT networks available and many others are rolling out their network as we speak.
At the same time, we see operators preparing for the sunset of their 2G and 3G networks to reduce operational expenses. In addition, public unlicensed networks don’t seem to live up to their promise, looking at Sigfox filing for bankruptcy and Bouygues Telecom’s announcement to shut down their public LoRaWAN network and focus on their cellular LPWAN technologies LTE-M and NB-IoT.
Now might be the perfect time to start considering using cellular LPWAN. The technology has proven itself, networks are ready to use and hardware is widely available.
What do we mean by Cellular IoT?
A brief history of LTE There is no such thing as an LTE standard. Instead, there is a multitude of technologies that fall under the LTE umbrella. These technologies can be roughly classified into 2 groups: MBB (Mobile Broadband) and MTC (Machine Type Communication). With MBB technologies such as LTE Cat 4 and Cat 6 focussing on data throughput and low latency, MTC aims at cutting down costs, improving link budget, and reducing power consumption.
Cellular IoT refers to MTC and allows sensors and actuators to be connected to the Internet. IoT devices require long-range connectivity (due to a large link budget) as many devices are installed in remote and often hard-to-reach locations, low power consumption as most devices run on batteries for years, and low cost as IoT deployments often come in large volumes.
Cellular technologies designed for IoT devices are LTE Cat 1 (including Cat 1bis), LTE-M (also referred to as LTE Cat-M1 or eMTC), and NB-IoT (also called LTE Cat-NB). As of today, we see these technologies being used in smart city applications such as smart street lighting and payment terminals or points of sales. In agriculture to track livestock or precision agriculture and in the logistics industry to track valuable assets or optimize warehouse management.
As shown in the coverage map below, large parts of Europe, North America, and Oceania are already covered by LTE-M and NB-IoT technology, as well as several countries in Asia and South America. This makes asset tracking particularly interesting now that networks are widely available and goods can be tracked cross-border.