Here are the two main IoT (Internet of Things) Networks. Who will come out on top? (Spoilers! It all depends on the application)


Hey gang, Tim here at Core Electronics and we're back at it again with IoT devices and mobile connectivity. Today is the showdown of LTE Cat M1 versus NB-IoT. Who's going to come out on top? So this will focus on the differences between LTE Cat M1 network and the NB-IoT network.

When it comes to IoT, they usually run on narrow band cellular standards and these two networks are the most commonly used currently. Narrow band cellular standards are set up for low-power wide area network radio technology. Cat M1 and NB-IoT are quite similar but have some key differences which makes each network better suited to particular applications.

You will need to find a SIM provider that will let you get onto one of these networks to use your IoT devices. Also, while a SIM card may be able to roam to multiple countries and then use the networks in each of these locations, each particular mobile network can require some specific configuration for the device to work, particularly when you're going from one country to another country.

For more information on other narrowband cellular standards and where this complexity comes from, I will link another guide down below in the description. That guide will enable you with all the tools to check if a particular IoT product will work on your local mobile networks. Also linked down below is the GSMA list of all mobile IoT commercial networks around the globe which enables you to quickly check if your country supports these network technologies.

Now back to the showdown. In simple terms, these two networks are both 4G LTE which is Long-Term Evolution technologies. These technologies are far superior to what was capable when utilizing 3G. G in this context stands for generation and really is just a marketing term but for ease of understanding we're going to use this terminology. Worth knowing, 3G in Australia will cease to.

LTE Cat M1 and NB-IoT are supported by Telstra and Vodafone in Australia, serviced by the low band number 28. In most applications, IoT devices are sending only small packets of information, particularly when the 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 power of remote IoT setups. It is also worth noting that a lot of modern IoT devices can connect to both networks, and it is up to you to decide which one to go with.

A table dives into the major differences between these two networks, starting with bandwidth. LTE Cat M1 supports 1.4 megahertz, whereas NB-IoT supports only 200 kilohertz, which is very narrow. This difference affects the data rate speed, which is the speed at which information is transmitted and received. For Cat M1, it hits around 1 megabyte per second, whereas NB-IoT is at 250 kilobytes per second. This improved data rate speed does come at a cost, however, as Cat M1 ends up using more energy when it is transmitting. This does take less time than an NB-IoT network, however, so the energy efficiency of NB-IoT ends up only being slightly better.

When initially setting up these devices with SIM cards, it will usually take Cat M1 a minute or two to initialize, whereas the NB-IoT can take up to five minutes. So, be a little patient when starting out with this technology, as that little SIM is trying to figure out where it is in this big wide world. In terms of hardware complexity, Cat M1 is more complicated to manufacture and has more parts, meaning the overall cost is higher. This becomes a big factor when you're going out and purchasing hundreds of these devices to monitor large power plants.

Cat M1 networks have a lower latency than big factories, making them ideal for tracking moving assets. They are also very capable of cell tower handovers, which occurs when a device is out of range of a particular tower and needs to be located on a new tower. Nbiot, however, does not do this and instead drops the device from the network when it is no longer in range.

Both Cat M1 and Nbiot networks have excellent penetration ability and are well represented in Australia, running on band 28. When deciding between the two networks, it is important to pick the right one for the particular application. For a deep dive on this topic, check out the Q&A webinar transcript presented by M2M1 in partnership with Telstra. Telstra is Australia's largest network provider and this webinar really gets into the nitty gritty details between both of these networks.

If higher volumes of transmitted data is desired, then LTE Cat M1 is the way to go. For most purposes, this is the best option for asset tracking of rental vehicles, equipment, cold chain processes, or any other kind of tracking of assets that are constantly moving.

If you're looking for faster data transmission rates, NB-IoT is the way to go for IoT applications that are focused on sensor monitoring in stationary locations, such as agricultural purposes, gas monitoring, or weather stations. Data for these can be very simple and small, and the device will be slightly more energy efficient, meaning you need to service the setup 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 network is also cheaper, so when hundreds of thousands of IoT devices are needed on stationary assets which report infrequently, NB-IoT is the network to use.

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