LTE Cat-M1 vs NB-IoT - 4G Connectivity Comparison with IoT Devices

Updated 16 February 2023

Back at it again with tips for IoT devices when connecting with Mobile networks. Quickly to explain The Internet of things (IoT) describes the network of physical objects (things) that are blessed with sensors, software, and other technology for the purpose of connecting and exchanging data with other devices and systems all over the Internet.

This tutorial is focusing on the differences between LTE CAT M1 network and the NB-IoT network. When it comes to IoT they often run on Narrow Band Cellular Standards and these two are the most common currently. Narrow Band Cellular Standards are low power Wide area network radio technology. Cat-M1 and NB-IoT are quite similar but have some key differences which make each network better suited to particular applications which will be explored. See below for contents of this guide.

- LTE CAT M1 and NB-IoT Overview
- LTE CAT M1 and NB-IoT Comparison Table
- Conclusion

You will need to find a SIM provider that will let you get on one of these networks to use IoT devices in this manner. Also while a SIM card can be able to roam to multiple countries and use the networks in these locations, each particular mobile network can require specific configuration for the device to work. For more information on other Narrowband Cellular Standards and where this complexity comes from, the guide Mobile Networks – Where Can My IoT Device Connect is the place to be. That guide will enable you with the tools to check if a particular IoT product will work on your local mobile networks. Also linked here is the GSMA List of all Mobile IoT Commercial Networks Around the Globe to quickly check if your country supports this technology.

For a real deep dive on this topic check out the Q&A Webinar Transcript presented by M2M One in partnership with Telstra (also attached at the bottom of this page). Telstra is Australias largest network provider and this really gets into the nitty-gritty details. As always if you have any questions, queries or things to add please let us know your thoughts!

LTE CAT M1 and NB-IoT Overview

Now both of these are very common networks and are also quite similar but they do have a number of key differences making them better suited to particular applications. They both run utilising the Narrow Band Cellular Standards. This is a category of low-power wide-area networks (LPWAN) used to connect devices that need small amounts of data, low bandwidth whilst promoting long battery life.

Now In simple terms, these are both 4G – LTE (long term evolution) technology. These technologies are far superior to what was capable of utilising 3G. G in this context stands for generation and really is just a marketing term but for ease of understanding, we will use this terminology. Worth knowing 3G in Australia will cease to be supported by 2024.

In Australia, these technologies are supported by the carriers Vodaphone and Telstra and are serviced by the Low Band Number 28. For more information check out the guide Narrowband Cellular Standards the guide Mobile Networks – Where Can My IoT Device Connect.

In most applications, IoT devices are sending only small packets of information. This is particularly true when the IoT device is battery-powered and far away from human contact. By sending only small packets and then quickly reverting to a deep sleep state this increases the battery life of remote IoT set-up. It is also worth noting a lot of modern IoT devices can connect to both networks and it is up to you to decide which one to go with.

LTE CAT M1 and NB-IoT Comparison Table

See below for a table comparing these two IoT networks in every detail. If you think something is missing write a message in the comments below.

Comparison Table


As you can see from above there is no clear winner in this showdown between LTE CAT M1 and NB-IoT. What it comes down to is picking the right network for the particular application.

If you want an asset tracker for rental vehicles, equipment, cold chain process (that is making sure certain products stay refrigerated throughout processing) or any other kind of tracking of assets that are constantly moving then LTE Cat M1 is the way to go. Particularly if higher volumes of transmitted tracking data are desired. For most of my purposes this is the network I use, the faster data transmission rate is too good to miss.

If the IoT application is more focused on sensor monitoring in stationary locations be it for agricultural purposes, gas monitoring or weather stations NB-IoT is the way to go. Data for these can be very simple and small, the device will be slightly more energy efficient meaning you need to service the set-up less and there is no concern of the device dropping out as there will be no cell tower handovers. The technology to connect to this technology is also cheaper so when hundreds to thousands of IoT devices are needed on stationary assets which report infrequently this is the network to use.

Attachment - Webinar_Telstra_Transcript.pdf

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