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LPWA Connectivity: The Difference in NB-IoT and LTE-M

4 minute read

Low power wide area (LPWA) networks were defined by the 3GPP in Release 13, with LTE-M and NB-IoT being supported by the GSMA as Mobile IoT options to support connected devices worldwide. Due to these technologies being well-suited to the less-complex devices of IoT, popularity is growing rapidly. This global IoT Deployment Map shows how widespread the use of both LTE-M and NB-IoT are.

As you consider deploying an IoT solution leveraging LPWA connectivity, you might be asking yourself, “What is the difference between LTE-M and NB-IoT?”

What is LPWA?

First, it’s important to understand what LPWA connectivity is. The defining characteristics of LPWA are spelled out in its name – low power and wide area. These two functions are important for IoT and make it much more possible to connect simple IoT devices cellularly.

Consider a massive deployment of IoT sensors that only turn on once a day, take a reading, and then revert to low-power mode. Using cellular connectivity via 3G or 4G would be difficult. It would be expensive, and it would drain the battery and reduce the lifecycle of a device.

IoT deployments benefit using simple devices that transmit small packets of data intermittently and have long lifespans, upwards of 10 years. Swapping out devices frequently is not ideal, especially in deployments where sensors are moving like in fleet or logistics; which are in hard-to-reach areas, such as underground; or are deployed in massive scale, like with smart metering. Logistically and financially, using consumer-driven mobile connectivity has not been greatly beneficial to IoT.

LPWA solves those problems by having a tailored connectivity to the key functionalities of the IoT device – supporting long battery life by not asking for large packets of data that drain power and drive usage up unnecessarily.

What’s the Difference in NB-IoT and LTE-M?

With both connectivity technologies carrying the characteristics of LPWA, there are only a few key differences, though those differences are impactful.

NB-IoT

This LPWA option is built on the LTE physical layer and was designed for extended coverage. With single tone transmissions, latency can be enhanced in poor coverage areas. Additionally, NB-IoT has a strong penetrative signal that allows for connectivity in hard-to-reach, underground, and rural areas.

NB-IoT also pairs well with devices of lower complexity. This category of devices produces low amounts of data – the type that or send and receive small packets of data. Because of the low data transmission and complexity of the device, NB-IoT has a slightly larger advantage in conserving the lifespan of the device.

LTE-M

This connectivity technology is an IP-based communication protocol. LTE-M was designed for higher bandwidth or mobile and roaming applications than NB-IoT. While wide coverage and low power consumption are attributed to LTE-M, it will use more battery power than NB-IoT due to carrier firmware upgrades, which require more power. LTE-M works well both stationary or moving. Finally, a major distinction in LTE-M is that it supports Voice over LTE (VoLTE), whereas NB-IoT does not.

Use cases for NB-IoT and LTE-M

The major distinctions that it boils down to in the choice between the two technologies are NB-IoT is categorised more for its penetrative signal and LTE-M is a more mobile, voice-enabled connectivity choice.

NB-IoT use cases include:

  • Retail applications for point of sale
  • Smart home applications
  • Smart cities
  • Smart buildings
  • Agriculture
  • Smart metering for utilities

LTE-M use cases include:

  • Fleet tracking
  • Asset tracking
  • Smart metering
  • Point of sale devices
  • People and pet tracking
  • Smart watches

KORE Builds Solutions with the Connectivity You Need

Whether it’s NB-IoT or LTE-M, or if you require a satellite or cellular connectivity, KORE can help you build the end-to-end solution you need to maximise results. Want to learn more about the latest generation of IoT connectivity? Check out our eBook, “Next-Gen IoT: Emerging Connectivity Creates Lasting Viability.”

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Topic(s): Connectivity , Featured

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