LTE-M for smart objects: benefits and technical specificities
When it comes to the Internet of Things (IoT), some businesses have now started looking for low-power, wide-area (LPWA) communication solutions for their smart objects.
Standard technology does not always provide what is needed in certain situations – for example, where solutions require long-term standalone power, or better indoor coverage. We already had solutions such as Sigfox and LoRa on the LPWAN market, and now mobile solutions are appearing alongside them: enter LTE-M which, with its technical specificities, offers a number of advantages. In this article, we’ll be looking at what LTE-M technology brings to the LPWAN market.
What is LTE-M?
LTE-M is an extension of 4G that operates using the mobile network. This network is an example of what is commonly known as LPWAN technology – or in other words, low-power, wide-area communication solutions.
What kind of technology uses LTE-M?
Things are about to get technical for a moment...the LTE-M network (which is a standard published by 3GPP) operates using licensed 800 and/or 1800 Mhz frequency bands. Objects must therefore be compatible with these frequency bands if they are to utilise the LTE-M network.
Performance-wise, speeds are higher than standard LPWAN technology allows, as we are currently at estimated uplink and downlink speeds of 375 kbps, with some operators even going up to 1 Mbps. Latency is also very reasonable at lower than 100ms, and there is no limit on the number of messages that can be sent per day. What’s more, as for standard mobile technology (2G/3G/4G), LTE-M also handles hand-over (the object’s ability to switch between antennae), which is no small thing when objects are on the move.
In terms of energy consumption, it offers two features to help improve objects’ battery life.
The first of these is Power Saving Mode, which allows the object to go into a scheduled hibernation phase whilst still keeping the network updated with its status (no network disconnection). Power Saving Mode is particularly useful in objects which do not need to be contactable in between sending messages.
The second feature is E-DRX (Extended Discontinuous Reception). This is a mechanism which helps to extend the sleep time in the device’s cycle – or in other words, the time during which a modem will not receive information – in order to save power.
In terms of coverage, the radio protocol specifically used for LTE-M is called MAT M-1, and offers better penetration into buildings and underground or semi-underground locations.
What are the advantages of using LTE-M?
The technical features of LTE-M mean it has several advantages: it is particularly useful in business applications where high call-out costs apply, and where devices are therefore required to have a long battery life (without a power supply).
This is mainly due to the Power Saving Mode and E-DRIX features, which can extend objects’ battery life to anywhere between 5 and 10 years. This is particularly useful when they are in difficult-to-access locations – underground meters, for example.
Another major plus point of using LTE-M over standard GSM technology is better penetration of radio waves, leading to improved indoor coverage. LTE-M offers significantly better coverage in locations where it’s tough getting objects to connect using 2G/3G/4G networks, meaning that objects in these locations can still upload data in real time.
That’s another plus to using LTE-M: as it uses the 4G network, its performance in terms of speed and latency is extremely good and it has access to all communication channels (Data/Voice/SMS) which is a major advantage for objects used as part of emergency equipment (lifts, remote assistance devices, etc.). What is more, the network is guaranteed to be sustainable in the long term as eventually LTE-M will be an integral part of 5G. This means you won’t need to change your device any time soon if you opt for an LTE-M module (which is particularly worth bearing in mind given the upcoming demise of 2G).
Another point that’s well worth bearing in mind is that LTE-M offers excellent value for money. The modules are less expensive than the equivalents for other GSM technology, and economies of scale are also expected to come into play. Above all else, by extending standalone power you can expect to see a drastic reduction in technician call-outs and limit the number of objects you need to replace for your customers.
In addition to all this, in terms of roaming agreements LTE-M is already available in a number of European countries (most notably France, Belgium and Switzerland) and in the USA. Roll-out is expected to happen very soon: firstly because we’ll be needing a software update for existing infrastructure, and secondly since we’ll be keeping the standard roaming agreements with telecom operators.
Check out Matooma’s full LTE-M range
Finally, in terms of usage, LTE-M offers a huge advantage for business applications where high call-out costs apply, and where devices are therefore required to have a long battery life (without a power supply). It’s also a great solution for uses where there are issues with indoor coverage, or coverage in difficult-to-access locations – underground or semi-underground, for example. Keep your eyes peeled for another article from us soon on the main instances where LTE-M can be used.
Why choose LTE-M technology?
There are a number of advantages to using LTE-M:
- Higher speeds compared to other types of LPWAN technology
- Low latency (<100ms)
- Bidirectional communication
- Increased coverage indoors, and in underground or semi-underground locations
- Longer battery life for smart objects
- Access to all communication channels: Data/Voice/SMS
- Lower module and call-out costs
- Secure solution using mobile network SIM authentication
- All the reliability and continuity of the 4G network, and subsequently 5G
This means that, in terms of LPWAN connectivity, LTE-M offers an appealing alternative to other solutions currently on the market, with fewer technical restrictions and reliable access to voice communication for emergency equipment (alarms, remote assistance, etc.). That’s not all: it also offers all the advantages of standard LPWAN technology, such as improved battery life, better indoor penetration, and lower hardware costs. Admittedly, as LTE-M is still in its infancy, it is not as efficient in terms of battery life (requiring slightly more power) and module costs as it could be (economies of scale comparable to Sigfox/LoRa forthcoming). Nonetheless, there’s very little to separate these networks: when it comes to choosing the right technology for you, it’ll be all about selecting the features that are the best fit for your business application and financial limitations.
Do you have any questions about LTE-M?