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NB-IoT, LTE-M and EC-GSM-IoT as the leading LPWA technologies

August 18, 2021



Andrei Zhukouski

Andrei Zhukouski

Senior Consultant

Link to Prylada Linkedin

The right time to upgrade your IoT network

With the increasing number of machines, vehicles and objects connected to the web as part of the Internet of Things (IoT), the demand for improved low-power solutions and security mechanisms has grown dramatically over the past few years. The implementation of modern low power wide area (LPWA) technologies, which have been standardized by the 3-rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP) in its Release 13, made a real breakthrough in the mobile industry and opened up new horizons for the business currently run on the IoT.

New prospects in the world of communicating things

Certainly, the three new-class LPWA technologies – Narrowband IoT (NB-IoT, also referred to as Cat-2), Extended Coverage GSM for Internet of Things (EC-GSM-IoT), and Long Term Evolution Machine Type Communications Category M1 (LTE MTC Cat M1, also referred to as LTE-M) – were introduced to mitigate the disadvantages of the existing LPWA solutions operating in unlicensed bands. Such proprietary technologies are designed to transmit tiny messages, less than 20 bytes in some cases, which limits their flexibility to support some IoT application requirements. Advanced capabilities of the standardized solutions in terms of power consumption, data security, coverage, and customization quickly conquered the globe, which was also reached due to highly widespread implementation of the 3GPP standards.

The 3GPP standardized three LPWA technologies to run in non-interfered licensed spectrum bands and cover the diversity of LTE network infrastructure deployed in different geographic regions.

  • LTE-M/Cat-M1/Cat-M is the second generation of LTE chips built for IoT applications. The most flexible LPWA technology, supporting both simple static sensor applications, as well as higher complexity applications that require voice calls and connected device mobility. The wider bandwidth allows LTE-M to achieve greater data rates (up to 1 Mbps), lower latency and more accurate device positioning capabilities.  But the real advantage of LTE-M over other options is that it is compatible with the existing LTE networks(although meshing LTE-M into LTE networks requires a software patch).
  • NB-IoT/Cat-2 isa narrower adaptation of LTE technology designed to fit into 2G channels. It supports ultra-low complexity devices with a very narrow bandwidth, 200 kHz. With extreme coverage capability, NB-IoT is ideal for supporting very low data rate applications in extremely challenging radio conditions.
    A huge advantage of this technology is that it eliminates the need for a gateway. Other infrastructures typically have gateways that aggregate sensor data, which then communicates with the primary server. With NB-IoT, however, sensor data is sent directly to the primary server.
  • EC-GSM-IoT is the IoT-optimized GSM network leading in terms of practicality and modularity, since a simple piece of code makes the EC-GSM connectivity feasible within 2G, 3G, and 4G networks. Therefore, this technology is likely to be strong in countries that are committed to keeping their 2G networks up for many years, including Malaysia, Africa and the Middle East. EC-GSM-IoT has improved security, compared to the existing GSM/GPRS networks, offers integrity protection, mutual authentication, and requires stronger ciphering algorithms.

LTE-M and NB-IoT are considered as future-proof and viewed as 5G technologies. They can efficiently co-exist with 5G NR (New Radio) in the same spectrum and already fulfill all 5G massive MTC requirements. The number of mobile operators that provide roaming services based on these two technologies in Europe is impressive and is increasing constantly. In Germany, for example, the NB-IoT-driven network currently supplies more than 90 percent of the population. Deutsche Telekom (which brought nationwide NB-IoT network coverage in Germany), Vodafone, Swisscom, Telia, and other European operators created a strong IoT network by covering their specific regions. Deutsche Telekom IoT GmbH published a list of European Telekom and Non-Telekom Roaming Partners offering the NB-IoT and LTE-M technologies in each country.

NB-IoT, LTE-M and EC-GSM-IoT-Two Leading LPWA Technologies

Nowadays, there is still a huge number of short-range wireless and mobile technologies that don’t fit well with some IoT applications due to their infrastructure complexity (which increases the costs dramatically), high power consumption and improper security level. The NB-IoT, EC-GSM-IoT and LTE-M technologies can address the majority of such applications in a simplified and effective manner without undermining such critical parameters as security, cost, coverage, and battery lifetime. Moreover, the 3GPP-standardized LPWA technologies can support a huge ecosystem (made up of hundreds of millions objects connected to the Internet) that ensures scalability, together with healthy competition that will durably keep prices down.

What makes standard LPWA technologies particularly attractive?

The 3GPP-standardised LPWA technologies possess the following features, which bring them to a higher level of compliance to the modern IoT requirements:

  • Low power consumption that ensures battery lifetime for up to 10 years
  • Unrivaled global network coverage
  • Low cost of devices and gateways
  • Simplified network installation and easy management due to smart architecture
  • Secure data communication and connectivity due to strong authentication and encryption algorithms
  • Network scalability
  • High amount of signals penetration through walls and building basements
  • Long distance communication and optimized transfer of small, intermittent blocks of data

Application vectors of LPWA technologies

The results of multiple studies and analyses show that the IoT services, devices and applications based on the NB-IoT, EC-GSM-IoT and LTE-M technologies are likely to drive the proprietary solutions out of the market and are expected to serve a wide range of industries for which the existing mobile network technologies fail to provide connectivity.

Here is a short list of potential application vectors of 3GPP-standardized LPWA technologies:

  • Utilities: gas and water metering, including smart meter consumption tracking and pipeline monitoring.
  • Logistics and transportation: assets, containers, vehicles tracking; location and status update.
  • Industrial and manufacturing: tank safety monitoring, waste storage monitoring, high RF interference environment monitoring.
  • Smart city: parking sensors (to monitor and report availability of parking spaces); waste management (monitoring status of waste containers); smart lighting (remotely turning lights on or off or adjusting the strength of the light).
  • Smart home: smoke detectors (regular auto-test, battery check, real-time alerts to the relevant parties in case of fire); home automation (values for temperature, humidity, control of garage doors); smart bicycles (tracking location).
  • Agriculture: live stock tracking (fishing, cattle and wild animal tracking and monitoring); stationary tracking and monitoring of soil, temperature, weather conditions.
  • Environment: data collection monitoring (pollution, noise, rain, wind, river flow speed, health hazard, etc.).
  • Track and trace: wearables (smart watches, VIP/pet location tracking), assisted living/clinical remote monitoring (temperature sensors, alert buttons).

All the listed use cases require the following common features from the technologies: wide area coverage, low power consumption (no access to mains power, high security level, and low cost. Unfortunately, no proprietary LPWA technology can ensure both a huge coverage range and great power consumption at the same time.

Plylada solutions for implementing LTE-M and NB-IoT

An object simply connected to the Internet does not mean anything by itself. It only becomes valuable to a customer when it collects and transfers data for a specific purpose, for example, triggering an alarm in case of fire. To take advantage of everything that LPWA networks have to offer, you need to select the right technology to fit the purpose of your application and then find the best module to ensure seamless and future-proof deployment.

The Prylada Gateway is here to help you implement the LTE-M and NB-IoT technologies or upgrade your current applications. The Prylada Gateway is a brand-new data acquisition module with IoT gateway functionality. The module can be powered via dual-source prioritized power supply input that enables battery back-up functionality. The modular architecture of the Prylada Gateway provides a wide range of industrial interfaces thus ensuring network scalability.

The possibility to combine the benefits of Prylada Gateway with the functionality of another Prylada IoT solution makes the deployment of LTE-M and NB-IoT even more effective. Over-the-air (OTA) updates service helps keep the IoT infrastructure healthy by enhancing performance, making it easier to introduce new features, and allowing devices to stay longer in the field.

The Prylada team has extended expertise in developing products that support the standardized IoT technologies and is ready to come up with a customized solution for your specific case. To get more details, please email us at contact@prylada.com.

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