A Beginner’s Guide to Mobile IoT
What is “Mobile IoT?” The “Mobile” part refers to mobile or cellular networks, depending upon which part of the world you live in. “IoT” stands for “Internet of Things.” If you’ve never heard this term, you’re probably thinking: that sounds sufficiently ambiguous. It may help to think of it as more of a marketing term that describes technologies and standards that take us a step further into our ever “connected world.” We will explore this in more detail in the following sections of a Beginner’s Guide to Mobile IoT.
The Hyper-Connected World
Modern day mobile networks are capable of carrying large amounts of data at high speeds. Smartphones are ubiquitous; the technology packed within far exceeding network capabilities, with the latter playing a persistent game of catch-up. Whereas the technology was designed and developed to help us connect with our friends and families, we are now also seeing the value of connecting the physical world around us: street lights, smart metering for gas and water, vehicles, manufacturing and agriculture. Wearables can collect data and, through Machine Learning, suggest bespoke meal or training plans.
As we have seen, IoT devices have a myriad of use cases, but they share some commonality which significantly differentiates them from smartphones.
They don’t need to transfer large amounts of data.
They need to be robust so that they can operate continuously without the need for manual intervention, and must be able to maintain this in remote environments, for example underwater or underground. They can also benefit from more penetrative coverage for these types of applications.
They need to be stingy on battery, allowing for many years of unattended operation.
Because they send data automatically, there is no need to implement a user interface, like a screen, keypad or send button.
How Does This Fit With Mobile Networks?
Mobile technology has evolved through “G’s” 2G to 5G, all in about 20 years. Though IoT solutions don’t need the rapid speed and bandwidth of a 4G network, 2G networks are phasing out and no longer globally supported. However, IoT solutions can utilize the same mobile networks as smartphones, without the need for additional infrastructure.
An IoT solution can be connected to a wireless network with an IoT module, coming in a wide range of wireless technology standards and features. Thales defines an IoT module as “a small electronic device, embedded in objects that can send and receive data.” It may contain tech similar to what’s in your cell phone, but it lacks the interactive user perks you gain with display and a keypad.
Low Powered Wide Area Network (LPWAN)
With a triple threat of driving powerful cost savings, efficiency and device simplicity, LPWAN technologies are fast becoming the ideal answer to the needs of IoT. Better yet, a 4G network can become an LPWAN network with a no-hassle software upgrade. Thanks to 3GPP and the Release 13 specification, modules are now able to use the current LTE spectrum with far less power, still delivering the sufficient level of connectivity necessary for most IoT applications.
1.) LPWAN is projected to slice the cost of broadband LTE in more than half – dropping the cost of connectivity due to higher endpoint capacity per cell. Hardware will be kinder on ROI as well, pushing modules to fall between $5-$10. (AT&T)
2.) With LPWAN, battery life now can stretch over a decade due to to its unique power-saving features, nonexistent in legacy LTE.
3.) LPWAN brings “5 times greater coverage than broadband LTE in terms of gain, penetrating indoors and deep underground.” (Thales)
Guide to Mobile IoT in Two Key Forms: LTE-M and NB-IoT
LTE-M, or the “Long Term Evolution for Machines” network standard, allows IoT devices to leverage existing cellular networks. (LTE-M is also synonymous with “Cat-M1” or “Cat-M.”) Devices provide uplink and downlink data rates of approximately 375kbps with limited voice capabilities, enhanced coverage indoors and underground and improved power efficiency, enabling battery life of up to 10 years. LTE-M is marked by low latency, best suiting devices in “mission-critical” applications for which real-time data transfer is crucial. For example: patient monitoring devices or precision tracking.
Another benefit: LTE-M/Cat-M1/Cat-M is will be backwards-compatible as 5G and LTE technologies increase their reach.
NB-IoT, or “Narrowband-IoT,” (also known as Cat-M2) uses only a narrow band of the total bandwidth mobile towers project, meaning it allows for less data throughput than LTE-M. It provides uplink and downlink data rates of approximately 50kbps without support for voice. NB-IoT is designed for IoT solutions with low data needs, or those with less weight placed on up-to-the-minute updates – for example water and electricity meters, or pipeline monitoring. It provides extended coverage indoors and underground and enables battery life of 10 years and beyond. NB-IoT may be the best choice for a region without good LTE coverage, or when deploying in an area where GSM is the standard mobile technology. Rather than operating in the LTE band, it uses DSSS (direct-sequence spread spectrum) modulation – which typically means a higher upfront cost for providers to deploy as opposed to LTE-M.
In a nutshell, Mobile IoT is a term that refers to the evolution of the “connected world” to include objects like sensors that can gather and process data through Machine Learning. IoT devices, leveraging existing mobile network infrastructure through modules that implement LPWAN standards, enable significant cost and power efficiency, with much greater signal coverage.
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