The Evolution of NB-IoT and LTE-M


NB-IoT and LTE-M


The Global Mobile Suppliers Association (GSA) has recently published an update to the “Evolution to Narrow Band IoT and LTE-M” report, first published in February 2017. It highlights the progress and commercial roll out of the Long Term Evolution for Machines (LTE-M / LTE CatM1), and Narrow Band – Internet of Things (NB-IoT) standards.




The report update identifies that the mobile industry commitment to LTE-M and NB-IoT has been solidified in more recent months as commercial launches of such networks have been seen, along with advancements in chipset, module and device manufacture:

  • 8 operators have commercially launched NB-IoT networks
  • 3 operators have commercially launched LTE Cat-M1 networks
  • 14 planned new networks using Cat-M1 or NB-IoT
  • 11 trials of NB-IoT technology since February 2017
  • 3 trials of Cat-M1 technology since February 2017
  • 14 modules released supporting only NB-IoT
  • 20 modules released supporting only Cat-M1
  • 16 modules released supporting both Cat-M1 and NB-IoT



So what is NB-IoT and LTE-M?

NB-IoT is a standard-based low power wide area (LPWA) technology, specifically designed for the Internet of Things (IoT). Using low power, NB-IoT operates in a more efficient way, making it a cost-effective and flexible solution for the IoT. Powered over 3G and 4G spectrums, NB-IoT offers strong coverage on a wider scale and is less likely to be affected by interference, compared to other options, enabling coverage in challenging environments. Its power efficiency also means that devices can run on batteries for 10 years or more.

LTE-M, like NB-IoT, is a low power wide area technology that has been released by 3GPP for applications where greater bandwidth is needed than NB-IoT can offer – providing download speeds which are 5x faster. As with NB-IoT, LTE-M has a battery lifetime of 10 years or more and has a wide range of use cases, but it is less flexible to deploy as coverage is not as strong.


The Use Case for NB-IoT and LTE-M

The GSA report states that 3GPP IoT technologies NB-IoT and LTE-M are becoming the global dominant technologies for LPWA IoT applications, and are set to enable huge market growth.

For applications such as smart metering, LTE-M is ideal as they only require small data transmissions and it can cover extended and hard to reach areas. Smart cities are also deploying LTE-M solutions for applications such as intelligent street lighting or parking sensor and management as well. For transportation, LTE-M can support applications such as vehicle tracking, telematics and asset tracking – ideal for fleet management.

For NB-IoT, use cases are similar. Applications such as gas metering, smoke/fire alarms, and event detectors, all require low energy consumption and have low data transfer demands. As well as being low power, NB-IoT is low cost and can be powered over existing networks, minimising the need to deploy additional infrastructure.

Whilst NB-IoT and LTE-M are still relatively new, it is clear that the adoption of these two standards for the Internet of Things is set to be a success.