What is LTE-M, and how does it differ from traditional LTE?

Is LTE, despite its reliability for many IoT applications, truly energy-efficient?

Among all the network provisions, LTE has been one of the most reliable network solutions for many IoT applications. However, with the expanding IoT application spectrum, there is a need for LTE-M as an energy-efficient and long-range network alternative over traditional LTE networks.

What are the key advantages of LTE-M for IoT applications?

LTE-M offers a handful of advantages for several IoT applications, depending upon their characteristics. Here are some of the key strengths of LTE-M:

  • LTE-M can be the perfect fit for IoT applications that require long-lasting battery life and energy-efficient wide scale IoT implementations 
  • Regardless of lower power consumption, LTE-M provides long-range communication for different IoT applications
  • Moreover, the LTE-M network also has better infrastructure penetration to provide indoor IoT connectivity. It can even help provide connectivity through dense infrastructures and underground environments
  • LTE-M also supports excellent handover between one cell to another. As such, LTE-M is as efficient for long-range mobility applications, allowing a whole new area of mobile and low-power IoT applications
  • LTE-M provides cellular IoT network options while competing with non-cellular long-range and low-power network protocols

Furthermore, LTE-M is constructed on top of existing cellular LTE infrastructure. Consequently, it wouldn’t necessitate extensive implementation costs that other non-cellular LPWANs might incur.

How does LTE-M differ from traditional LTE?

LTE-M, Long-Term Evolution, Category M1, is a subset designed based on LTE network infrastructure. It differs from LTE in terms of the specific focus on lesser power consumption, better penetration, and long-range networks. The main objective of LTE-M is to fulfill IoT applications that are long-lasting, more sustainable, and can operate remotely

  • Frequency:
    Traditional 4G LTE operates across a broad spectrum of frequencies, ranging from 450 MHz up to 3.8 GHz. In contrast, LTE-M operates within the sub-1 GHz LTE in-band. While LTE offers faster data rates and lower latency, LTE-M excels in providing deeper penetration through buildings and lower power consumption.
  • Transmission rate:
    LTE indeed offers higher data rates, often beyond tens of Mbps, whereas LTE-M prioritizes energy efficiency over data transmission speed and is typically limited to 1 Mbps. Consequently, LTE-M is best suited for IoT sensor applications where smaller amounts of data are transmitted intermittently.
  • Latency:
    LTE can serve real-time and time-sensitive applications because of its lower latency within several milliseconds. It can even support real-time monitoring, video calling, and streaming applications. However, LTE-M does have a higher latency of several seconds. As such, the latency is fine for the majority of less sensitive IoT applications.
  • Power consumption & battery life:
    LTE offers superior performance but often at the expense of device battery life. Consequently, devices utilizing LTE must either be recharged frequently or equipped with higher battery capacities.

In contrast, LTE-M surpasses all cellular technologies in energy efficiency. It is particularly well-suited for IoT devices deployed in remote locations, requiring prolonged operation without the need for frequent maintenance or recharging.

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What are some key applications of LTE-M?

There is a broad spectrum of IoT applications that can leverage the communication capabilities of LTE-M. Here are some popular IoT use cases well-suited for LTE-M:

  • Industrial supply chain monitoring sensors:
    Such a range of sensors can directly communicate to the internet with LTE-M instead of forming a complex network topology with WI-FI or another technology. With LTE-M, such sensors can communicate to the internet without any hassles for their long battery life.

LTE-M would not only simplify network architecture but also reduce the maintenance and energy consumption costs for industrial applications.

  • Wireless energy meters:
    IoT can help implement wireless energy meters for consumers across the city. These energy meters are mostly idle and only report user’s consumption readings once in a while. In the past, these devices would use traditional LTE networks. However, through LTE-M, the cost of connecting these energy meters to the Internet can be significantly reduced.
  • Fleet tracking solutions:
    Another application of LTE-M is a fleet tracking system where a wide range of vehicles connect to the internet and share their status. On top of location tracking, these fleet management solutions can also monitor the speed, fuel level, and the vehicle’s health through temperature, vibrations, and sudden accelerations. 

Likewise, many such smart city and IoT applications can get a cheaper and more energy-efficient option in the form of LTE-M. A lot of LTE or 5G applications can consider LTE-M as a cheaper and energy-efficient network alternative. Such a spectrum of network technologies allows a choice to opt for the most efficient IoT implementations.

What is LTE-M?

LTE-M serves as an alternative to traditional LTE, operating on a distinct frequency. As a cellular network, LTE-M prioritizes long life, reliability, and communication range over aspects like data transmission rate and latency.

A plethora of IoT applications may not fully leverage the capabilities of a traditional LTE network, particularly those requiring higher data transmission rates and real-time responsiveness. Consequently, a cheaper, more reliable, and energy-efficient provision can better cater to such less data-intensive IoT solutions.

Applications where traditional LTE would be excessive can benefit from LTE-M as a more efficient option. Simpler IoT applications, such as transmitting periodic sensor readings, can operate reliably within an LTE-M network and may even offer extended battery life. This makes LTE-M suitable for applications like wearable sensors, ambient environmental monitors, and water level monitoring sensors.

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