May, 11 2020

Webinar recap: Cellular IoT explained - everything you need to know about 2G, 3G, 4G, 5G, LTE-M and NB-IoT

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On the 22nd of April we held the second webinar in the series hosted by our Head of Product, Christian Henke about the different wireless technologies and their benefits for IoT.

From legacy 2G/3G migration to 4G LTE, LTE-M, NB-IoT and 5G-ready functionality – there are a lot of technology types to choose from. But which one should you consider for your business case? Each generation of network brings with it a significant milestone in the development of mobile communications, the benefits of which we’ve outlined in our recent webinar. Please watch the recording to find out more: 

Download the slides here.

To recap here is a short summary of each technology:

When looking at the different radio technologies what is relevant? 

In IoT the selection of the radio type is not about more and faster data transport in up and downlink - it is about availability, coverage, battery consumption, modem size, and costs. So let's compare the different technologies on these criteria to help enterprises choose the right modem for their use case. 



The higher the frequency band the technology operates in the smaller the distance the radio waves can travel. And the higher the frequency the more are the radio waves attenuated by objects or walls. Traditionally GSM and UMTS have sub 1 GHz frequency bands they operate in and can provide good coverage. 4G and 5G can also be deployed in sub 1Ghz but especially 5G is also using 3.5GHz and 26-40 GHz bands (mmWave) which provide high throughput but only in a small coverage area. 


Frequency bands

When selling devices internationally, Enterprises need to make sure that their modem supports the frequency bands in which the technology is deployed in the target country and operator. With GSM and UMTS the selection is simple because modems can cover with 2 bands already have of the world - and with 4-5 bands the whole world. With LTE and foreseeable with 5G, the selection of the modem is more difficult because they are deployed in many frequency bands (LTE in 27). For NB-IoT and LTE-M modem manufacturers have issued modems that work globally in all frequency bands. 


Power Consumption and Cost 

When comparing idle mode power consumption (which is most relevant for sensors that are just sending some data from time to time) 2G has about 50% less power consumption than 3G which has 50% less power consumption than 4G. On the other side when data is transmitted 3G has 100% more power consumption per Mbyte. 

In general, the modem costs increase with complexity - so 4G modules are more expensive than 3G modules which are more expensive than 2G. Within this trend, NB-IoT and LTE-M are operating in 4G but uses less complexity and reduces the device cost in the range of 2G. 


NB-IoT and LTE-M

Nb-IoT and LTE-M are introduced because regular conversational cellular technologies are not made for IoT. The device is always listening on the radio channel for incoming calls (or SMS) - but in many IoT use cases, there is no spontaneous connection to the device. That is why NB-IoT and LTE-M introduce features like PSM and extended DRX that puts the device to sleep for a longer period of time (in which it is not reachable). 


5G / New Radio (NR) 

5G has three main pillars for which only 2 are most relevant for IoT applications. One pillar is ultra-reliable and low latency communications (URLCC) also called critical machine type communication (cMTC); targeting use cases such as autonomous driving. Massive machine-type communication (mMTC) is the evolution of LTE-M and NB-IoT - and NB-IoT and LTE will be integrated into this form of 5G.

5G is deployed in more than 40 countries but usually in very small deployments. Up to this day, there are only a few IoT 5G modems available which are quite costly. 5G standardization is still ongoing and new features will be added - which will mean new modem types. Overall 5G is not a viable alternative today if you need to choose a new modem. 

We will announce the upcoming webinars very soon. In the meantime, we recommend to check-out one of our recent webinar recaps on the blog: What are the Top 10 essential features your cellular connectivity provider should have to enable your IoT business?

What security features does your cellular connectivity provider enable? 

Check out our Guide for Cellular IoT Security
for 25+ best practices to ensure a secure IoT solution for your business.

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