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Next generation of IoT: LTE-M and NB-IoT explained
Next generation of IoT: LTE-M and NB-IoT explained

Next generation of IoT: LTE-M and NB-IoT explained

Tech Trends · Feb 26, 2019

The Internet of Things has changed the way we live, work, and innovate – enabling us to become more efficient, more productive, and more connected.  The paradox, however, is that many IoT solutions have been prevented from reaching their full potential because of limitations with current network infrastructure. So the question is, how do we enable IoT solutions to perform optimally?

In our previous blog post in this series, we profiled two new low-power wide-area network (LPWAN) protocols created by 3GPP, the partnership responsible for 2G, 3G, 4G and LTE. Both LTE-M and NB-IoT have been purpose-built for the Internet of Things. That is, they have been designed to accommodate the small amounts of data transmitted infrequently by many IoT solutions (across a wide area).

While the two protocols have been created for a similar purpose, there are several differences in the way they function. Understanding these differences will help you to select the right one for your solution.

Here’s what you need to know:

Throughput

LTE-M is the ‘bigger’ of the two protocols. Operating on a 1.4 MHz bandwidth at a data rate of 150 kbps, LTE-M is able to handle a wider range of use cases than NB-IoT, which operates on a 200 kHz bandwidth with a data rate of 50 kbps. If your solution needs to send more data faster – say for tracking vehicles or assets – then LTE-M will be the better fit. On the other hand, if your device is going to be used to remotely monitor a stationary generator, then NB-IoT will be the best choice.

Mobility

If your solution is mobile and needs to send uninterrupted streams of data, LTE-M is the way to go, as it enables seamless hand-off between cell towers. On the other hand, NB-IoT is ideal for solutions that transmit from fixed locations or that don’t require data to be sent in real-time. That’s not to say that NB-IoT isn’t able to support mobile solutions – but it’s important to note that if the modem isn’t able to find a cellular signal, or if the signal is lost in the middle of a transmission, the data will be stored and transmitted once it reconnects.

Availability

In North America, LTE-M was rolled out first for a couple of reasons. The main reason is that this protocol is compatible with existing network infrastructure, making its deployment simpler and more economical. The second reason is that LTE-M is able to accommodate the large distances that some solutions have to travel. For example, many fleet and asset tracking solutions need to connect across the continent, from north to south and east to west. Since LTE-M is able to seamlessly hand off between cell towers, it makes sense to prioritize this protocol. In 2017, AT&T and Verizon invested in deploying LTE-M across the U.S. and TELUS launched LTE-M in Canada in 2018. Carriers across North America are now also turning to NB-IoT roll-outs, with T-Mobile being the first to launch nationwide in the U.S.

LTE-M and NB-IoT are expected to support and enable the growth of the Internet of Things in the coming years as both provide a ready path to 5G. To learn more visit telus.com/lpwa and stay tuned for the next blog discussing some of the use cases that will benefit from these new wireless protocols.

Authored by:
Gurpreet Singh
Gurpreet Singh