NB-IoT or LTE-M: Which Technology to Choose?

In today’s article, we zoom in on the choice between NB-IoT or LTE-M.

NB-IoT or LTE-M

An expected explosion of the number of things requiring connectivity in order to do what they are intended to do  is an undisputable fact in the telecom community. Mobile network operators have early on identified their 3GPP-based solutions as one of the options to be used for that connectivity, and started exploring which of the various possible technologies to deploy in their networks in order to be part of the IoT business.

As it turns out, the set of improvements to carry IoT traffic over good old GSM and GPRS – EC-GSM-IoT – did not really gain any traction, as the general trend goes more towards getting away from the 2 and 2.5G solutions, possibly refarming the (attractive…) frequencies for LTE to use. As a result the most common dilemma faced by the network architects was to choose between the two LTE-based solutions: LTE-M (LTE for Machines) and NB-IoT (Narrowband IoT).

How did the comparison of these two technologies turn out? Well, the first fact to notice is that they both focus on optimising the 3GPP networks for the same reasons. To save on the devices battery, extending its lifetime to a required 10-15 years. To re-evaluate the existing mobile-related signalling procedures, especially for stationary devices, in order to cut down on unnecessary signalling. To minimise the amount of device- and service-related data stored in various network entities, as the number of devices to service is expected to reach billions. And to fulfil the possibly most important requirement – to create an environment in which really cheap and simple devices can get served adequately (a commonly mentioned number is production cost of below 5 USD per device).  Early on it became quite clear that the network features defined for all the above purposes are, quite understandably, the same for both LTE-M and NB-IoT.

So, where to do the two differ? The name says it all, really. NB-IoT is, well, narrowband. It is expected that the majority of “things” will send a just little bit of data, and rather seldom. That means that a narrowband solution – attractive, because it’s (relatively) cheap – is good enough for most of the new applications and services. On the other hand, not all of the IoT traffic is expected to be just a few octets to send from time to time – some applications for their regular behaviour, and probably most of them for e.g. occasional software upgrades – will need resources with reasonably high throughput rates and possibly delivery guarantees. And for that purpose the regular LTE radio, broadband in comparison with NB-IoT, is much better suited – once we add the IoT-specific features turning it into LTE-M.

Conclusion

So, what is the conclusion? Well, it appears LTE-M and NB-IoT are not competing, but complimentary technologies. Most  probably the operators will implement both – with the only decision to be taken being: which project should come first… NB-IoT or LTE-M? What is your opinion on this?

Interested to know more about our training? Check out the NB-IoT and LTE-M training courses!

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The Apis IP-Solutions Team

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