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Choosing NB-IOT or CAT-1M for IoT startups

Alexa! I can’t find my glasses! Oh well, we still have to reach there but we are not far. Thanks to the world of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Internet of Things (IoT). However, for all smart devices to have the ability to communicate, you need to be connected.

Initially, devices were able to communicate only in close range using Infrared (IR) or Bluetooth (BT). Then Wi-Fi increased the range and made it smart IoT. As more devices emerged, there was a need to connect these devices on a broader spectrum. Connectivity has moved onwards from closed rooms to buildings, across smart cities, pan countries and now towards globally accessible protocols. In other words, we moved from IR to BT, onwards to WiFi, then GSM based networks.

Applications including Intelligent agriculture, Animal husbandry or Industrial IoT deployment all require a broad-spectrum connectivity. The most common and widely spread connectivity modules include GSM based services dependent on Telcom operators. Major protocols today include – 2G, 3G, 4G, LTE and now we have NB-IoT, CAT-1M and 5G networks in the deployment stage.

Since each protocol practically has its own set of HW and FW requirements, it is not easy to switch from one to another. Development cost is also high. So it is imperative, specially for a new startup or a new product designer that he chooses the right protocol from day 1.

With a plethora of solutions available for connectivity, the designers and companies are faced with this common question. How to choose the appropriate communication module? How to identify and understand the product development costs, product manufacturing costs, and end-user network coverage for each of these protocols? Let us see the hiccups while making a comparison on the protocols.

  1. Traditional 2G, GPRS, 3G and other communication network: Low power use though slow speed. Most operators are phasing out this service gradually so that faster, new technologies can be adopted. This means that the original products designed on these protocols cannot be used anymore.
  2. 4G and 5G are bound to consume a lot of power and hence not suitable for IoT applications.
  3. Only options left is NB-IoT or CAT-1M which most operators are now globally moving towards. But they are also different from each other.
  4. There is no global norm for roll outs of these various technologies. The situation across major operators across the globe differs from country to country. Choosing one protocol means developing a different product for a different market each time and going through all the entry barriers of certifications, testing and approvals. The cost of certifications for each protocol is also very high.

So, how to choose between NB-IoT or CAT-1M?

Here, LABX7 proposes a feasible solution for the startups considering the cost and operator situations. We have developed a solution using Qualctel’s dual-mode communication module. One communication module has passed the global operator’s certification, and is compatible with LTE CATM1 and NB-IoT. The design is compatible with the two communication modules during production according to the requirement of the actual operator of the user. In case of coverage, the user can find the most relevant IoT card in his local area.

Case study – North American market:

Verizon and AT&T, T-mobile, Spring have already deployed the LTE CATM1 network nationwide.

T-Mobile has also opened the NB-IoT network.

LTE CATM1’s traffic fee is more expensive than NB-IoT’s traffic fee, the smallest unit, 30MB maximum data per year, costs around USD 11/year

The minimum unit of NB-IoT traffic fee is USD 5/year

We need to note that the price of the dual-mode communication module is about 30% higher than that of the single CATM1 or NB-IoT communication module.

However, in the early stage of advancing in the market and where the end-user demand is not clear, it is ideal and recommended to adopt a dual-mode communication solution. Once the product is accepted and has a good presence, the volumes would increase. In the case of volume reaching around 100K units, the unit cost comes down to the same level as a single protocol module.


Here is a glance at the main differences between LTE Cat M1 & NB-IoT

What’s LTE Cat M1

LTE Category M1 (Cat M1) is a power and cost optimized cellular technology created for IoT applications that features on a 1.4 MHz (reduced from 20 MHz) spectrum, has a transmit power of 20Bm, and typical upload speeds between 200kpbs and 400 kpbs. This technology can lengthen battery life, potentially by up to a decade.

Verizon, the U.S wireless operator, is going to launch the Cat M1 technology along with multiple companions such as Sequans, U-Blox, Altair, Nokia, Ericsson and Gemalto. It’ll be released over the 4G LTE (Long Term Development) network with an open up environment and is likely to reach nationwide U.S. coverage by the finish of the initial trimester of 2017.

The true benefit of Cat-M over other options out there is that Cat-M works with with the prevailing LTE network. For carriers such as for example Verizon and AT&T, that is great news because they don’t possess to spend cash to build new antennas. They should just upload new software so long as the products operate within its LTE network. The prevailing customer bases of the two companies will likely listen to that Cat-M can be by much the superior option.

Perhaps probably the most innovative things for Cat-M1 is that it is the first LTE based hardware architecture designed designed for low-power and low-cost IoT applications.  Previously, the hardware was usually evolving with quicker data rates to aid broadband (telephone, tablet, etc) applications.

 Why make use of LTE Cat M1?

-Cheaper devices

-Long battery life

-Low data rates

-Extended coverage

-Substantial number of device connections in a cell

To reduce the device cost, it’ll:

•          Decreased RF bandwidth to at least one 1.4 MHz limited to data price up to 1Mbps

•          Single RAT support

•          Limit to 1 antenna

•          Lower modulation (QPSK just)

 To prolong the electric battery life, it introduces unique power setting for UE (Rel. 12, 13):

•          PSM (power conserve mode): I will idle

•          eDRX (prolonged discontinuous reception): allow page-able without Tx

LTE Cat M1 provides new power-saving modes

Energy saving mode (PSM)

UE decides how frequently and for how lengthy it requires to be active to be able to transmit and receive data. Optimum PSM timer is 12.1 days

PSM mode is comparable to power-off, however the UE remains authorized with the network. Which means that when the UE becomes energetic again you don’t have to re-attach or re-set up PDN connections. This eliminates web page monitoring between your data transmissions (UL)

Prolonged DRX cycle (eDRX)

It reduces power usage by extending the sleeping routine in idle mode (up to 40 min). It allows these devices to turn component of its circuitry off through the extended DRX period to save lots of power.

•          eDRX at idle condition: Sleep for longer time but stay attacheded

•          eDRX at connect mode: Sleep for longer period but stay connecteded

•          It is vital that you remember that the UE may ask for to enable both PSM and prolonged idle mode DRX. It really is up to the network to choose whether to permit both, or only 1, or non-e of the capabilities.

•          What about NB-IoT?

•          NB-IoT (also known as Cat-M2) includes a similar objective to LTE Cat-M1, nonetheless it runs on the different technology (DSSS modulation vs. LTE radios). Consequently, NB-IoT doesn’t operate in the LTE band, and therefore providers have an increased upfront price to deploy NB-IoT.

•          Still, NB-IoT is certainly touted as the possibly less expensive option since it eliminates the necessity for a gateway. Additional infrastructures routinely have gateways aggregating sensor data, which in turn communicates with the primary server (here’s a deeper description of gateways). With NB-IoT, sensor data is sent right to the primary server. Because of this, Huawei, Ericsson, Qualcomm, and Vodafone are actively researching and working to commercialize NB-IoT.

Please contact LABX7 (www.labx7.com) to find out how to use dual-mode modules for development and related expenses to bring your IoT products into mass production as soon as possible, to the market, and to gain customer recognition.



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