Cellular Low-Power Wide Area Network Technologies (NB-IoT, LTE-M)
LTE-M (LTE Cat-M1, or Long-Term Evolution for Machines) and NB-IoT (NarrowBand IoT) are both technology standards developed by 3GPP (3rd Generation Partnership Project) as cellular-based technology solutions for IoT applications.
These two technologies are poised as an integral part of the long-term 5G IoT strategy by allowing them to co-exist with other 5G technologies. 5G is the overarching term used to describe the fifth generation of cellular technology. It promises high speeds of 2 Gbps (and even up to 100 Gbps in the future). 5G technologies also promise reduced latency and wider coverage (in terms of the number of devices concurrently connected to a network).
LTE-M and NB-IoT differ in several attributes that make each of them suitable for different types of applications.
NB-IoT is ideal for simple applications with low power consumption and low bandwidth requirements, while LTE-M has a higher data rate and is best suited for real-time and mission-critical applications. The main differences between the two are speed (higher for LTE-M) and latency (lower for LTE-M).
NB-IoT and LTE-M operate primarily by design in a star topology.
Primary Use Cases
The main use cases of NB-IoT include smart agriculture, smart city, and smart meter applications. The main use cases of LTE-M, on the other hand, include logistics, healthcare devices as a backhaul communications channel, and in automotive applications.
Non-Cellular Low-Power Wide Area Network Technologies (LoRaWAN, Sigfox)
LoRaWAN is an open wireless networking protocol maintained by the LoRa Alliance. LoRaWAN is built on top of LoRa, a proprietary modulation format developed by a company called Semtech.
LoRa only defines the lower-level layers of the network stack, and LoRaWAN defines the upper layers of the stack. LoRaWAN is simply one of several protocols built on top of LoRa.
LoRaWAN is categorized as a low-power wide-area network (LPWAN) technology. It enables long-range communication between devices while maintaining low-power consumption.
Sigfox is also an LPWAN technology, however, it’s a proprietary technology that’s offered by the French company Sigfox, which acts as the sole network operator for the technology.
Primary Use Cases
LoRaWAN is popular in smart city applications, such as smart utility meters, smart parking meters, and supply chain and logistics applications like asset tracking. Sigfox is also popular in smart city applications but more so in the EU region than in the U.S.
In the following table, we compare the different wireless technologies mentioned previously.
In the subsequent articles within the series, we will cover a wide variety of industrial applications, list the most important attributes for each application, and assess the most suitable technologies for that application.