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A Guide to Cellular IoT

In today’s connected world, cellular or mobile networks not only connect us to our family and friends – but also numerous other devices like our Gmail server and Facebook account. This is the age of the “Internet of Things” or IoT. In this era, more and more devices are being connected online.

Consequently, the demand for technology that can connect physical devices like your car, audio speaker, or television along with other devices like highway signals and electricity lines, to the cellular network is on the rise. This is the driving force behind Cellular IoT technology. It is projected to be a market worth $5.31 billion by the year 2023.

What is Cellular IoT?

So, what is cellular IoT and how is it useful? Cellular IoT is the technology that connects physical objects to the Internet utilising the same cellular network currently used by smartphones. In other words, this technology can connect IoT devices using existing mobile networks. Thus, it eliminates the need to invest and develop a separate dedicated network infrastructure just for IoT devices.

Thanks to significant investments in developing cellular networks in most counties, mobile users enjoy functional cellular connectivity at all times. The idea behind Cellular IoT enablement is to use cellular networks, including 3G, 4G/LTE or 5G, for connecting devices like streetlights, agricultural, and healthcare equipment.

Benefits of Cellular IoT

What are the benefits of Cellular IoT technology? Here are five of them:

  1. Extensive Coverage

    As Cellular IoT solutions use existing cellular networks, IoT devices are assured of extensive coverage that is already in place. This level of network coverage is essential for IoT applications that require data access across multiple cities or regions.
    Other Internet connection technologies, like Wi-Fi, do not provide the same levels of either coverage or security.

  2. Cost-saving

    Thanks to significant investments in existing cellular networks, the infrastructure required for Cellular IoT enablement is already in place and does not require any additional investment. Infrastructural requirements for Cellular IoT, like cellular towers and base stations, are already in place.
    Also, cellular IoT can connect thousands of IoT devices in each square kilometer. Cellular IoT is a cost-effective and affordable technology for many applications including assets in motion (Cars, Trucks, Trains) as well as static assets (Smart Meters, Smart Campus, Smart Factory environments).

  3. Remote Management

    Every physical device needs to be regularly checked and maintained and that includes Cellular IoT devices. Using an online IoT platform, you can centrally manage and troubleshoot your connected devices remotely, regardless of location. This benefit ensures that service engineers can be alerted to exceptions rather than having to check every device. Therefore, cellular connections minimise downtime and help reduce costs associated with field service.

  4. Flexibility in Connectivity

    Not all IoT connected devices are the same.  Some require long range connectivity, while others require high data bandwidth. There are several categories of cellular IoT technologies to choose from based on your device and application needs. For example, if your connected device does not use real-time data transfer, you can opt for a cost-effective cellular IoT connection that transmits low data volumes.
    For instance, NB-IoT can be used for low power, low bandwidth applications, while 4G or LTE-M can be used for higher bandwidth IoT applications.

  5. Security

    Just like any other connected device, cellular IoT devices also need to be secured from unauthorised access.
    Cellular IoT devices are already secure, as part of the GSMA standards. Additional encryption can be applied to ensure a multi-layered approach to security.  Devices can be monitored to identify abnormal or malicious activity. Moreover, cellular IoT devices can be configured to use private network technologies like VPN that offer enhanced security.

Types of Cellular IoT

cellular iot - Types of cellular internt of things

IoT can connect via 2G, 3G,4G, or 5G networks. Depending on the needs of the IoT device and application, there are primarily two types of Cellular IoT connections, namely, LTE-M and NB-IoT which are the recent IoT specific variables. 2G and 3G are no longer used for mobile connectivity. Yet, these connections are still in use for smart devices like parking meters in selected countries.

Cellular network IoT connectivity options include:

  • 2G, 3G, 4G: The standard cellular network technologies, which were originally designed for mobile phones only and now support other types of devices. While 4G is the current generation, and now 5G has been launched, yet in many markets IoT is still supported using 2G or 3G connections.
  • LTE Advanced: A faster version of the standard LTE technology. It can be used in IoT projects like self-driving vehicles which require rapid responses.
  • LTE Cat 0: Is a low cost, and relatively low power solution for IoT, but has the benefits of also supporting Voice and SMS. As voice and SMS both have a role to play within IoT as well – think about device wake-up and voice interaction with machines.
  • NB-IoT: The cellular response to the need for low power connectivity, using a cellular compatible connectivity technology. Ideal for battery powered devices with relatively low data transmission requirements.

Let us now discuss the LTE-M and NB-IoT connecting technologies.

LTE-M and NB-IoT

Due to the range and diverse needs of connecting IoT devices, multiple connection options help to ensure an efficient approach, depending on the application and device in question.. Apart from mainstream GSM technologies (2G, 3G, 4G, 5G) the mobile industry is investing in variables of the core technology to support the demands of IoT connectivity. These include:

  • LTE-M:

    Short for “Long Term Evolution for Machines,” LTE-M (or LTE Cat M) is the second generation of the LTE Cat.0 technology. Among the advanced forms of connectivity for IoT devices, LTE-M offers multiple benefits like voice and data support, relatively long battery life, and low power consumption.
    LTE-M connections are more suited for mission-critical applications that require high data bandwidth and depend on real-time data transfer. Some examples include self-driving cars, or connected medical equipment, On the flip side, LTE-M technology is more expensive than other forms of IoT connections, including NB-IoT.

  • NB-IoT:

    Short for “Narrow Band – IoT,” NB-IoT technology is designed especially for low power, low data IoT usage. Compatible with 4G networks, NB-IoT offers benefits like low power consumption, long-range, and reliable connectivity. Among the fastest-growing connection technologies for IoT devices, the number of NB-IoT connections globally is projected to reach 685 million by 2021. NB-IoT connections are designed for IoT applications that do not require high bandwidth and only transfer limited amounts of data. For example, it is useful for smart soil sensors used in agriculture or a connected energy meter used in smart cities. Another application is the field of environmental sensors that measure data related to weather conditions and wind pressure, but only transmit intermittently. IoT devices that use NB-IoT technology usually operate from a fixed location and are designed so that if they are battery powered, they can last up to ten years.

Why Choose Tata Communications for IoT Solutions?

If you are looking for complete, end-to-end cellular IoT enablement, Tata Communications is the right partner. We have a range of IoT solutions that cater to every application need. With Tata Communications MOVETM our IoT solutions support lets you easily implement applications that can collect, analyse, and visualise your IoT data on a real-time basis, anywhere in the world.

With our extensive global presence and partner network, Tata Communications has the right technology to improve the business productivity of your organisation and help your revenue growth. Global IoT solutions using Tata Communications MOVETM are built for reliable device connectivity, security, and scalability from a few hundreds, up to tens or even hundreds of thousands of connected devices.

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A Guide to Cellular IoT