Understanding The Difference Between LTE-M & NB-IoT
LTE-M and NB-IoT are Low Power Wide Area Networks (LPWAN) specially designed for IoT. Reduced costs, deep penetration, smaller form factors, and low power consumption are some of the advantages of these relatively new forms of communication. It is not easy to choose which technology to implement. This article compares LTE-M and NB-IoT, cutting through the complication with a simple overview that will help you choose your cellular connectivity option.
Difference between LTE-M & NB-IoT
Long Term Evolution for Machines, or eMTC LPWA (enhanced machine type communication low power wide area), is the abbreviated name for LTE-MTC low power wide area (LPWA) technology standard published by 3GPP in the Release 13 specification. On the other hand, NarrowBand-Internet of Things, or NB-IoT, is a low-power wide-area technology created for IoT and is similar to LTE-M.
LTE-M and NB-IoT are popular, but are the two technologies practically synonymous? There are a few crucial differences between them and those are the deciding elements on the best cellular IoT connectivity choice for your deployment.
What are these crucial distinctions, then? Let's group them into practical categories based on their primary performance indicators for the sake of simplicity and ease -
Spectrum & Bandwidth
While both the cellular IoT choices in question work inside the licensed spectrum, LTE-M has a bandwidth of 1.4 MHz, while NB-IoT has a maximum bandwidth of 200 kHz. The reduced bandwidth of the latter often translates into larger ranges while adversely affecting throughput, which means in practice. As a result, LTE-M has a little lower range but a much better throughput due to its wider bandwidth.
Transmission Range & Mobility
The methodologies, topography, and intended use of the experiments have a significant impact on the ranges of both cellular IoT systems. While the maximum distances for each clock-in up to 100 kilometers, in normal use, the kind of range that you may see in your devices are much lower. LTE-M reaches only 15-20 kilometers on average and NB-IoT up to 35 kilometers, with no reductions in the speed of data transfer.
Device Battery Life
Both of these technologies significantly increase the battery lifetime. According to studies, depending on the particulars of the needs for the IoT project, it is possible to reach even 15 years of battery lifetime. However, NB-IoT will be the logical choice for projects where the economics of battery lifespan are more essential than data transfer speeds since higher transfer rates are not achievable. In LTE-M, the batteries would be depleted faster in comparison to NB-IoT. Some users claim that based on their projections battery powered devices connected via LTE-M may achieve up to 7 or 8 years. All of this still would depend on the size of the battery, application and use case, deployment conditions, etc.
LTE-M is only for 4G networks, whereas NB-IoT can be deployed on both 2G (GSM) and 4G (LTE) networks. However, NB-IoT employs DSSS modulation, which calls for specialized gear, whereas LTE-M is already compatible with the current LTE network. Both are expected to be supported by 5G. These and other elements influence accessibility globally.
Typically, operators began rolling out LTE-M first in nations with existing LTE coverage (e.g. the US). The addition of NB-IoT functionality is more difficult than upgrading an existing LTE tower to accommodate LTE-M. You must take deployment into account if you are sending a device somewhere. Additionally, you must take into account the specifics of roaming with LTE-M and NB-IoT if the device won't be deployed in one location for the foreseeable future or if you are unsure of its final location. Compared to NB-IoT, LTE-M has the advantage of already having cellular roaming agreements in place. As a result, NB-IoT has restricted roaming.
Use cases of LTE-M
- Asset tracking
- Healthcare gear/wearables
- Retail/vending machines
- Smart home security
Use cases of NB-IoT
- Smart metering
- Smart agriculture
- Environmental monitoring
- Smart city
Future of LTE-M & NB-IoT
For enterprises wishing to benefit from LPWAN (Low Power Wide Area Networks) technology, which extends the battery life of devices and links previously inaccessible devices, LTE-M and NB-IoT are both suitable connectivity options. Both are currently on the market and standardized, making them future-proof, having a worldwide network coverage, and being supported by GSMA and telecom standards. NB-IoT and LTE-M are still in their infancy. In the coming years, these low-power cellular networks will pave the way for a plethora of new applications that will link billions of devices that require long-range connectivity and increased battery life. Making sure that their products support both standards will maximize the prospects for manufacturers of IoT devices.
How to assess your connectivity needs?
Loosely speaking, LTE-M is more adaptable. Given that it seamlessly works with both stationary and mobile devices, it is a reliable, long-term option for connectivity. NB-IoT is more suited for manufacturers with fixed devices (but can be used for mobile devices in some cases) for well-known nations where fewer data is exchanged, though. As a result of the power-saving capabilities, stationary devices implementing NB-IoT can have years of battery life. However, it’s important to assess your connectivity requirements. You can reach out to us to understand which connectivity options are suited for your enterprise.
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