4 Top Questions About the Future of Cellular Networks in IoT

Digi International Digi International
February 17, 2017
Recently, two of our product managers sat down with M2M Zone for an in-depth discussion about connectivity types in the IoT space, next-generation cellular networks, and what it all means for your IoT/M2M applications.

There were so many great questions from attendees that we wanted to share our top 4 questions, along with their responses. 

1. How does LTE-Cat 1 compare with LTE-M and NB-IoT?

Brent: So LTE-Cat 1 is available now. LTE-Cat 1 is essentially 3G type of speed, its a scale down from typical LTE. It does not have the power saving modes that you will get in the two narrow band standards that I mentioned, but it does bring down the cost of the module significantly. So I view LTE 1, which again is available now, as kind of the first time you could put LTE in a machine-to-machine product and not price yourself out of the market because you really didnt need LTE.

LTE-Cat M then drops down to 2G speeds, and thats where you start seeing the power saving modes. And narrow band IoT is sub-2G speeds, its sub-100 kilobytes per second and an increased battery life. So thats kind of the progression of the different networks.

2. So where will the IoT application typically reside in the LPWAN market? Will it be inside or outside the narrow band centered device, or both?

Brent: So in general, its always going to depend on the use case, as you get lower and lower power, youve got lower and lower processing. So youve got typically less intelligence on the edge and more intelligence in the cloud. Its all about getting the data up to the cloud as inexpensively as possible.

Andrew: I was going to say the same thing. I think the other notion would be to take a security angle on it. Given that there may be limited power, limited processing, and limited memory on the edge, I think theres also the notion that theres limited ability to defend against security threats, potentially. And so, like you said, getting the data to the cloud in a safe and reliable way is the most important thing.

3. Will the new Cat M and NB-IoT use regular SIM cards?

Brent: Yes, although I think youll see much more of a move to the embedded SIMs as we go forward. I guess Im not 100% positive of how the technology will support that, but I know generally in the market youll see more and more moves to embedded SIMs versus the standard kind of SIM that shows up in a credit card format.

4. Do the current IoT management platforms need to be upgraded to work with these new technologies?

Andrew: So, "upgraded" can mean a lot of different things. But it seems to me that to the extent that a new LPWAN technology provides insight into whats going on at the network level, at the physical level in terms of RF quality, packet loss latency, and so forth. If theres something interesting that LPWAN technology can tell a management platform about whats going on in the field, then that management platform would need to be upgraded to take full advantage of that. Thats how I would approach that.

Brent: The management platforms understand that these devices are not always reachable. And things like timeouts where I didnt get a response versus in this amount of time, when you get to those lower power, higher latency devices that might break your system. And we see that as we look at our router products which are connected all the time versus our battery-powered IoT products which connect very rarely.

The management platforms can handle it, but sometimes the mentality of the user cant because they expect things to be connected all the time, and thats just not going to be the case with the battery IoT products.

And that might be the case with certain, even like SCADA systems that expect the device to be connected all the time. And if its not, they error out. So I can see some updates required in those type of systems.

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