NB-IOT and LTE-M are two new Low Power Wide Area (LPWA) technologies developed for IOT applications. Both are protocols for low bandwidth cellular communications that connect to the internet devices that need to transmit small amounts of data, with the lower costs (both hardware and subscription) and the higher battery life.
They’re expected to connect hundreds of millions of things to the Internet in the next few years and there are some clear benefits that make these two technologies essential for the future of IOT communications:
In terms of markets and applications both NB-IOT and LTE-M look at the same horizons, but each specific use case will make decide which technology to choose.
We are talking about connecting everyday objects to the internet (IoT) and in few years we’ll be immersed the Internet of Everything (IoE), so it’s not wired to have a wide variety of verticals in which these new LPWAN technologies can be applied. Here we summarize some of the principal ones:
Although both were created by the 3GPP standards and have similar features and applications, there are some differences to consider.
NB-IOT is developed to enable efficient communication and long battery life for mass distributed devices and uses the already established mobile networks to connect these “things”. It is Europe focused and, after the first NB-IOT commercial launches have been completed, the global roll out will be for this 2018.
There are multiple features that can make this technology lead the IOT communications market in a short future (*have a look at the following table), but let us highlight 3 key elements:
- Low costs → The NB-IOT modules have lower costs than the modules for other communication technologies in the market (like, 3G, 4G, GPRS…) and also LTE-M. This cost is, currently, around 10 dollars, and is expected to be between 5 and 7 in a short future. From a user point of view, it is important to underline that the subscription cost will be cheaper than current M2M communications.
- More cellulars per cell → NB-IOT devices uses 180 KHz bandwidth so it is estimated the network supports more than 100.000 connections per cell.
- Excellent penetration in indoors and underground.
LTE-M (Long Term Evolution for Machines)
LTE-M, also known as CAT-M1, use the LTE installed bases and is optimized for higher bandwidth and mobile connections, including voice. At this moment is rolled out in North America and the commercial launches of LTE-M networks will take place globally, also, in 2018.
There are three main aspects to focus on when talking about LTE-M:
- Uplink and Downlink speed → Up to 1 Mbps which is quite more than NB-IOT.
- VoLTE → This technology supports voice.
- Mobility → LTE-M is prepared for devices in movement.
To know more about the technical features of each one of these technologies (NB-IOT and LTE-M) see the following comparison table:
Below you can find a map that help you track the expansion of these low power wide area networks. It’s updated by the GSMA, or GSM Association, an originally-European trade body that represents the interests of mobile network operators worldwide. It also supports the standardization, deployment and promotion of new mobile technologies.