May 01, 2017

The Fall and Rise of Cellular IoT

Last modified on September 5, 2021

Traditionally, the greatest rises tend to precipitate the hardest falls. However, we occasionally encounter a situation where a fall is essential to advancing the greatest of rises.

The case of cellular IoT provides us with such a scenario:

According to recent projections, we can expect to see cellular IoT grow to some 2.4 billion connections by 2025, and to reach 3.5 billion connections by 2030 the majority of which will be in the automotive space, closely followed by security and utilities applications. Indeed, with the ongoing rollout of CAT-M1 networks – to be followed by the first NB-IoT networks later this year – there will be few (if any) IoT markets that LTE does not address. Common use cases of NB-IoT include sensors and utility meters, while uses for CAT-M1 include trackers and alarm panels, connected vehicles, and wearable devices. 

LTE is a worldwide success. According to the Global mobile suppliers’ Associations report (GSA – March 2021 report), there are 5.8 billion subscriptions connecting 62% of mobile users globally. Also, 807 telecom operators are currently running LTE networks in 240 territories and countries around the world.

Impressive though this number is, the increase in cellular IoT connections and applications should not be too surprising, given the recent advances of LTE technologies. Instead, it is the “fall” that LTE has had to take to become the most viable connectivity solution that is intriguing.

LTE has had to shrug off its traditional mantle as a power-hungry and highly expensive broadband technology, to a fallen version in the form of cellular IoT. Fallen in terms of ultra-low power consumption and reduced throughput at the lowest possible cost.

Most IoT devices need extended battery life and low power consumption. LTE IoT adds features such as extended Discontinuous Reception (eDRX) and Power Save Mode (PSM) in order to reduce power consumption.

The new generation of LTE technologies – optimized to address the specific power, cost and throughput requirements demanded by these emerging use cases – will continue to address the evolution of IoT connectivity, as chipsets progress in 3GPP Release 14 and beyond, with a Software Defined Radio (SDR) architecture specifically designed to support this evolution.

With support for such advanced features as voice and mobility, CAT-M1 will undeniably support the broadest range of applications. Meanwhile, CAT-NB1 will address those low-throughput and delay-tolerant devices that demand ultra-low power and the most competitive price points. Typical uses cases for CAT-M1 include vehicle telematics, wearable devices, trackers and alarm panels.

Thus, the “fall” of 4G LTE will ultimately be the cause of its rise, as it continues to provide cellular connectivity for the vast majority of IoT applications – ranging from wearables, tracking devices and utilities to vehicle telematics, smart city management and IoT security systems. The true differentiator will be a viable dual-mode CAT-M1/NB1 chipset – optimizable for a range of pricing, traffic profiles and RF conditions.