When Engaging In A Cellular IoT LPWA Deployment, More Than Just The Device Hardware Must Be Considered – Part 1

Rich Pellegrini
Sr. Product Manager, IoT, iBASIS 

Use Case and Device Considerations

Many devices will have a connected future as part of the Internet of Things (IoT). According to the ITU-R, 3GPP, and GSMA standards bodies, the highest density of devices will occur in the ‘Industrial Internet’ and ‘Connected Cities’ verticals, enabling devices, such as smart buildings, smart cities and meters, tracking applications, and others. Due to the high density of devices in these verticals, they are referred to as the “Massive IoT” category. Devices in this category all have similar requirements, such as:

  • Small data volumes
  • Extended coverage
  • Low cost
  • Low power/long battery life (10 or more years)
  • Deep indoor/underground coverage (e.g. smart building, oil and gas)
  • Decurity (safety and data integrity)
  • Higher delay tolerance

To address these requirements, the ITU-R and 3GPP have defined the LTE-M (LTE machine-type communications) (a.k.a. LTE Cat M1) and NB-IoT (Narrowband IoT, a.k.a. LTE Cat NB-1) low power wide area (LPWA) mobility standards to support this massive number of expected IoT devices.

With these two standards, many LPWA use cases can be satisfied. IoT device manufacturers must determine the specific requirements of the device and select the best cellular LPWA standard. The table below provides a high-level feature comparison of the two technologies that can be compared against a device’s requirements.

However, selecting the technology based on the best fit to device requirements alone is not enough.  Deployment location must also be considered since the selected technology is often not available in the planned deployment location.

Mobile Operator Support for LPWA Networks

The GSMA provides a Mobile IoT Deployment Map that allows a user to research what LPWA coverage is available in which countries. By filtering the map on cellular LPWA technology and clicking on a particular country, the reader can determine the LPWA technologies offered and by which mobile operators. Most of North and South America, Europe, and the Baltic countries support both LTE-M and NB-IoT, as well as select Asian countries like Japan, South Korea, and Thailand along with Australia and New Zealand. Mexico only supports LTE-M, while the CIS countries, China, Hong Kong, India, and Indonesia support only NB-IoT. 

The choice of which LPWA technology to support is most often determined by the network assets owned by a particular mobile operator and the type of vendor equipment used in constructing those networks.   

As a result, when considering a global deployment, or even a regional deployment, support for just one technology is not sufficient. To ensure connectivity in almost all locations, support for both LTE-M and NB-IoT are required. Other options include support for an LPWA technology with a fallback to 2G, or an LTE M2M technology like LTE Cat 1 bis, depending on your power and cost budget.

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Part 2 of this series discusses an MNO’s decision to deploy a particular LPWA technology and other MNO network support considerations. Click HERE to read more.


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