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 with the physical objects around us: street lights, smart metering for utilities such as gas and water, vehicles, or industrial applications like 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?
In just two decades, mobile technology has evolved from 2G to 3G to 4G, and now 5G. IoT solutions don’t need the sizzling speed and bandwidth of a 4G network when 2G capabilities are all that’s necessary. The problem is: 2G networks are end of life and no longer supported everywhere. 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, which comes with a wide range of wireless technology standards and a variety of features. An IoT module is a small electronic device, embedded in objects that can send and receive data. It contains the same technology found in mobile phones, but without the interactive user features, like a display or keypad.
Low Powered Wide Area Network (LPWAN)
Current modules implement standards of LPWAN technologies that drive significant cost savings, efficiency and device simplicity. A 4G network can become an LPWAN network with a simple software upgrade. This was standardized by 3GPP in the Release 13 specification, allowing for the highly efficient use of the current LTE spectrum, requiring far less power and delivering the connectivity necessary for most IoT applications:
1.) LPWAN is expected to cut more than 50% of the cost compared to broadband LTE.
2.) More than 100 times lower power than broadband LTE achieving 10 years and above of battery life due to specific power-saving features, which currently don’t exist in legacy LTE.
3.) 5 times greater coverage than broadband LTE in terms of gain, penetrating indoors and deep underground.
Guide to Mobile IoT in Two Key Forms: LTE-M and NB-IoT
LTE-M, which stands for “Long Term Evolution for Machines,” is a network standard that allows IoT devices to piggyback on existing mobile 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 makes all the difference. 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, which stands for “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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