Decoding LTE for IoT: Making the Right Connectivity Choice

Starting an IoT project requires thinking about connectivity from the outset. One of the first decisions you’ll face is how to connect your device, and choosing the right LTE standard is critical. This decision is even more pertinent now, considering the ongoing 2G/3G sunset, which is the phasing out of older cellular technologies. As these older networks go offline, ensuring your IoT devices are compatible with newer and supported standards becomes crucial. Your choice in network technology affects everything from the chipset and module you’ll select to the mobile networks you’ll partner with. Whether you’re exploring IoT deployments in areas like wearable tech, smart meters, or industrial automation, there are four primary LTE cellular options to sift through. Join us as we dive deeper into understanding how to select the LTE standard that aligns perfectly with your product needs, complemented by the typical use cases for each.

Understanding LTE

LTE, or “Long-Term Evolution,” represents the 4G wave of wireless communication standards. Its main objective? Quicker and more efficient broadband internet access for mobile devices. Born from 3GPP’s efforts, LTE has elevated user experience, paving the way for clear voice/video calls, HD streaming, and swift web browsing. While 5G promises even greater speeds, LTE continues as the crucial bridge between past networks and the next wireless tech frontier.

LTE Cat 1

LTE Cat-1 is optimized for devices needing low to medium bandwidth, making it increasingly relevant as 2G and 3G networks are phased out. Now, 4G LTE Cat-1 serves as the most cost-effective and widely available cellular standard capable of supporting video streaming features.

Speed & Capability: Cat-1 supports speeds of up to 10 Mbps downlink and 5 Mbps uplink. Latency of 50 to 100 milliseconds

Use Cases: Particularly suited for IoT applications with moderate data rates such as in-car asset tracking, video surveillance, POS and certain wearable devices.

Pros: Strikes a balance between speed and power efficiency.

Cons: May be excessive for simple sensors or basic telemetry.

LTE Cat 1 bis

Cat-1bis is essentially a streamlined version of LTE Cat-1, leveraging the same infrastructure and standards but with just a single antenna. This design choice offers several advantages: not only does it make the unit more cost-effective, but the single-antenna setup also enhances power efficiency. Importantly, you don’t have to sacrifice any of the features and benefits associated with the original LTE Cat-1.

Speed & Capability: Supports same speeds

Use Cases: Effective for applications that don’t require the full speed of Cat-1 but need something faster than Cat-M1, such as advanced wearables or smart home applications.

Pros: It offers a balanced blend of speed and power efficiency, leading to a design that’s simpler, more cost-effective, and compact.

Cons: While Cat-1bis might have slightly reduced coverage compared to the dual-antenna Cat-1, this difference seldom affects the overall user experience

LTE Cat-M1 (LTE-M)

LTE Cat-M1, also known as LTE-M, is a low power wide area (LPWA) technology that is part of the 3GPP Release 13 standard. It was specifically designed for the Internet of Things (IoT) and Machine-to-Machine (M2M) communications.
Speed & Capability: Typically around 1 Mbps for both uplink and downlink.

Use Cases: Developed for a range of IoT applications like wearable health devices, fleet management, and smart meters.

Pros: Offers better building penetration and longer range than Cat-1, with efficient power usage suitable for battery-driven devices.

Cons: Limited global availability

LTE Cat NB1 (NB-IoT)

Narrowband IoT (NB-IoT) is a low-power, wide-area technology designed for diverse IoT devices and services. Under the 3GPP Release 13 standard, it emphasizes indoor coverage, affordability, extended battery life, and high connection density. With a 200kHz bandwidth, it’s optimized for stationary devices transmitting data sporadically and doesn’t support mobility like LTE-M.

Speed & Capability: Narrowband speeds reaching approximately 60 kbps.

Use Cases: Its minimal data rates are ideal for applications where bandwidth isn’t a priority but battery life and deep penetration are, such as utility meters and agricultural sensors.

Pros: Extremely low power consumption, ensuring extended battery life and unmatched penetration features.

Cons: Not tailored for applications demanding regular data streams or larger data packets. Limited global availability.

LTE Cat 4

As part of the 3GPP Release 8 standard, LTE Cat 4 is designed for more data intensive applications and services. The technology uses multiple input, multiple output (MIMO) configurations and supports a higher level of modulation compared to its predecessors, allowing for increased data throughput.

Speed & Capability: Peaks at data rates of 150 Mbps downlink and 50 Mbps uplink.

Use Cases: It is well-suited for applications requiring high-speed data transfer, such as video streaming, online gaming, and high-quality video conferencing.

Pros: Offers high-speed data suitable for bandwidth-intensive applications. Widely adopted across many devices, ensuring good compatibility and support.

Cons: Power consumption is significantly higher compared to other IoT-centric LTE categories.

Choosing the right LTE Standard

Selecting the ideal LTE technology for your device hinges on various key considerations:

Power and Battery Life: Devices needing extended battery life should lean towards Cat-M1 or NB-IoT due to their efficient power consumption.

Coverage: For devices located deep within structures or underground, NB-IoT or Cat-M1 offer superior signal penetration.

Throughput & Latency: Cat-M1 provides moderate data transmission with reduced latency compared to NB-IoT, while LTE Cat-4 offers high-speeds suitable for data-intensive tasks.

Mobility: For roaming devices, consider the handover capabilities. Some LTE categories are best for stationary units, while others support dynamic mobility.

Budget: Higher bandwidth LTE types can be costlier. Ensure the choice matches your financial capacity.

Carrier Adoption: Examine carrier support and network coverage for your chosen LTE category, especially in your device’s region.

5G and the Future: As 5G emerges with revolutionary potential, its global infrastructure remains in its formative stages. For now, 4G LTE remains a dependable and cost-efficient solution for most IoT applications. Notably, LTE-M and NB-IoT are poised to stay relevant within the 5G landscape, but the longevity of LTE Cat1 amidst 5G’s rise is more ambiguous.

Get connected with Velocity IoT

Navigating the IoT landscape demands robust, future-proof connectivity solutions. Our VIoT-Flex multi-IMSI SIM cards offer seamless, global coverage across LTE/4G/3G/2G technologies, and are 5G ready. Partnering with Velocity IoT is not just about connectivity; it’s about forging a successful IoT journey together.

Ensure a prosperous IoT future with Velocity IoT. Ready to elevate your IoT connectivity? Reach out now.

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