With the IoT now enabling practically any asset to be connected to the internet, the need for wide-area, low-power, low-cost connectivity for IoT applications has grown. With this type of connectivity, utilities, Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs), transportation and logistics firms, construction firms and other organizations can deploy smart energy and resource monitoring, smart city infrastructure monitoring, predictive maintenance, mobile asset tracking, and similar IoT applications that allow them to collect, analyze and use asset data to lower costs, offer new services, increase customer engagement, and otherwise transform the way they operate.
At first, proprietary Low Power Wide Area (LPWA) technologies like LoRa and Sigfox emerged to meet some of these organizations need for wide area, low power IoT connectivity. Then, over the past decade, the 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP) introduced standards for two cellular LPWA technologies – Narrowband IoT (NB-IoT) and LTE-Machine Type Communication (LTE-M). Meanwhile, Mobile Network Operators (MNOs) have built out NB-IoT and LTE-M networks, with at least 156 such networks now in operation around the world today.
While shipments of proprietary and cellular LPWA IoT devices are roughly equal today, over the next decade industry experts expect growth of cellular LPWA devices to outpace propriety LPWA devices. BERG Insight forecasts that annual shipments of 3GPP LPWA (NB-IoT and LTE-M) IoT devices will exceed 300 million units by 2025, while annual shipments of non-3GPP LPWA IoT devices will grow more slowly over this period, to less than 250 million units.
Why will Cellular LPWA Grow Faster than Proprietary LPWA?
The reason why shipments of cellular LPWA device shipments are expected to be higher than propriety LPWA over the coming years is that cellular LPWA offers several advantages over proprietary LPWA. These advantages are leading organizations to increasingly choose cellular LPWA for their monitoring, tracking and other IoT applications.
Cellular LPWA, unlike propriety LPWA, offers organizations:
Separating Cellular LPWA Fact from Fiction
Despite these and other advantages associated with cellular LPWA, some business leaders still think cellular LPWA’s power consumption, data throughput, and coverage or signal penetration capabilities are significantly weaker than proprietary LPWA’s.
However, upon further examination, the facts show that many of these cellular LPWA drawback drawbacks are fiction. For example:
Cellular LPWA Power Consumption is Comparable to Proprietary LPWA: While broadband LTE and 5G NR cellular chipsets do consume more battery power than proprietary LPWA chipsets, cellular LPWA chipsets deliver power performance on par with proprietary LPWA chipsets. Designed for IoT applications, these NB-IoT and LTE-M chipsets have been designed to use very little power when they are in sleep or standby mode. And because cellular LPWA data rates are higher than propriety LPWA data rates, they can connect and then disconnect from the network faster than proprietary LPWA chipsets, allowing them to save additional power by spending more time in sleep or standup mode
LoRa’s Coverage and Signal Penetration Are Not Significantly Better Than Cellular LPWA: LoRa, a proprietary LPWA technology, is perceived as having better coverage and signal penetration than NB-IoT and LTE-M. Yet, the difference in maximum coupling loss (the amount of the wireless channel that can be lost before device is no longer able to connect to network infrastructure’s antenna) between Lora (165db) and cellular LPWA (164db) is only one decibel. In addition, public cellular LPWA networks are denser than LoRa networks – which means, for a given area, cellular LPWA is likely to provide better coverage and signal penetration than LoRa.
Data Throughput Rates for Cellular LPWA Are Higher Than Proprietary LPWA: The latest version of NB-IoT, NB2, offers downlink (DL) speeds of 127 Kilobits Per Second (kbps) and uplink (UL) speeds of 158 kbps, while the latest version of LTE-M, M1, provides DL speeds of 588 kbps and UL speeds of 1119 kbps. These rates and real-world field tests of cellular LPWA and proprietary LPWA devices show cellular LPWA data speeds are higher than proprietary LPWA technologies. Thanks to these higher data rates, in the field FOTA updates that are not possible with proprietary LPWA devices can be completed with cellular LPWA devices. Moreover, because cellular LPWA uses licensed spectrum, quality of service and non-interference is guaranteed both today and tomorrow, further improving performance.
Cellular LPWA Delivers the IoT Connectivity Organizations Need in a Connected Economy
As organizations of all types seek to digitally transform their operations, being able to extract, orchestrate and act on data from widely distributed, battery powered, low-cost IoT sensors and other devices is becoming more important than ever.
Cellular LPWA’s ubiquitous global coverage, robust security, support for FOTA upgrades and guaranteed service meet this need, providing organizations with wide area, inexpensive, low-power connectivity for a wide range of IoT applications. In addition, with power consumption, data throughput rates and coverage that is comparable to or better than proprietary LPWA, and a technology standard supported by MNOs and other wireless industry leaders, these organizations can be confident that cellular LPWA will offer them the connectivity their IoT applications need not just today, but tomorrow as well.
Olivier Amiot is marketing director at Sierra Wireless, where he is responsible for business development and market strategy for IoT solutions in the smart energy and industrial markets.
November 3, 2016 — AT&T turned on an LTE-M-enabled commercial site in the San Francisco market last week to support its low-power wide-area network pilot, “starting a process that will transform the Internet of Things (IoT) for years to come.” AT&T plans to make the technology commercially available in 2017.
The pilot will include solutions from Altair, Ericsson, Qualcomm Technologies, Sierra Wireless, Telit, u-blox, Wistron NeWeb, and Xirgo Technologies. The technology is expected to be available to customers outside of the pilot starting in 2017.
“We’ve joined with Altair, Ericsson and technology leaders from across the ecosystem to launch the first LTE-M enabled commercial site in North America,” said Chris Penrose, president, internet of things solutions, AT&T. “Innovations like LTE-M will bring IoT to more end points than ever before. It’s part of our strategy to offer the widest range of IoT network options to our customers.”
LTE-M will combine enhanced coverage and longer battery life (up to 10 years) with carrier-grade security for a variety of IoT solutions, including smart utility meters, asset monitoring, vending machines, alarm systems, fleet, heavy equipment, mHealth and wearables, according to the company.
LTE-M will lower the costs for modules to connect IoT devices to the LTE network and provide coverage for IoT devices underground and deep inside buildings.
Other participants in the pilot will include: Badger Meter smart water devices, CalAmp connected vehicles and assets, Capstone Metering underground smart water meters, PepsiCo smart vending and Samsung wearables or other consumer devices.
November 3, 2016 —
Hmmm… I must have missed that. Where was I when the IoT or the internet of anything/everything (IoX), as I prefer to call it, arrived?
As I have discussed in the past, I think that coming up with marginal, fringe or incremental technologies and calling them the IoX, or 5G or Smart-X is bad business. Nokia, for example, likes to say they have almost 5G technologies, which is fine, and they give them almost monikers such a 4.5G and 4.9G. but at least they don’t call them 5G, of which there are still no real standards. The same with the IoX.
So why does AT&T say that the IoX is here? Because it has decided that LTE-M (Nokia has an LTE-M solution as well), is the new IoX standard?
In today’s competitive world, market spin is everything. Some companies, especially carriers, have a lot at stake with 5G and the IoX. If they don’t keep their momentum up, with all the emerging technologies, platforms and players, they could easily lose what momentum they have built up.
AT&T’s claim that the IoX is here is based upon the fact that there are many technologies, both currently available and emerging, that will be implemented in the IoX. Some of these include MMwave, various renditions of Wi-Fi, cellular, satellite, low power WANs, small cells and more. Inevitably these will all be part of the IoX. So AT&T is doing its usual thing, just stretching the truth a bit (which it so often does) and hedging its IoX position.
So why LTE-M. Well, LTE-M is a derivation of LTE, specifically for machine-to-machine (M2M) communications. It is a fully LTE-compliant platform, just less of one. Essentially it is a simpler LTE platform with optimized operational efficiency. It offers a simplified LTE chipset, to minimize costs. It also is a low-power technology that allows batteries to last 10+ years.
It offers a better coverage factor than LTE because it utilizes multiple technologies such as power boosting of data and reference signals when necessary, repetition/retransmission, and relaxing performance requirements (such as longer acquisition times or higher error rates). It also offers security and supports complex use cases. And it leverages existing LTE networks so AT&T can use it on their cellular frequencies (as opposed to unlicensed technologies – ah now I get it).
LTE-M is just another one of the many technologies we will see as part of the IoX. claiming it is the IoX is a bit of a stretch. Come on AT&T, we all know better.