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LTE-M Low Power Wide Area Network (LPWAN) NB-IoT Wireless Technology

George Hardesty
3 minute read

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LTE-m Low Power WAN Technology for IoT

LTE-M, short for Long-Term Evolution for Machines, is a type of low power wide area network (LPWAN) technology standardized by 3GPP (3rd Generation Partnership Project) for the Internet of Things (IoT) and Machine-to-Machine (M2M) communications. It's part of the broader LTE (4G) technology family but specifically optimized for IoT applications.  It is a form of Narrowband IoT (NB-IoT)

Designed to meet the needs of IoT applications requiring low to medium data rates, low power, and mobility, LTE-M strikes a balance between power efficiency, coverage, data rate, and cost.

  1. Low Power Consumption:
    • LTE-M is designed for devices that require low power consumption. It supports features like Power Saving Mode (PSM) and extended Discontinuous Reception (eDRX) which allow devices to sleep for extended periods, significantly prolonging battery life, potentially for several years, depending on the application.
  2. Wide Coverage:
    • It offers improved indoor and rural coverage compared to traditional LTE. This is achieved through better link budget, meaning LTE-M signals can penetrate deeper into buildings and reach more remote areas.
  3. Data Rates and Bandwidth:
    • LTE-M supports higher data rates than other LPWAN technologies like NB-IoT, typically around 300 kbps to 1 Mbps. This makes it suitable for a wider range of applications, including those requiring voice support or firmware updates.
  4. Low Cost:
    • The modules for LTE-M are less expensive compared to standard LTE modules. This cost-effectiveness makes it more viable for a broad range of IoT applications.
  5. Mobility and Roaming:
    • LTE-M supports mobility, meaning devices can seamlessly move and switch between cell towers without losing connection. This makes it suitable for tracking applications (like fleet management) where the device is constantly on the move.
  6. Direct to Internet Connectivity:
    • Devices using LTE-M can connect directly to the internet without the need for an additional gateway, simplifying the network architecture and reducing deployment complexity.
  7. Application Areas:
    • It is ideal for IoT applications that require mobility, moderate data rates, and voice capabilities. Examples include wearable health monitors, smart city applications, asset tracking, and smart agriculture.
  8. Standardization and Compatibility:
    • As a part of the 3GPP standard (specifically releases 13 and above), LTE-M ensures interoperability and consistency across different manufacturers and networks, making it a globally accepted technology.
  9. Scalability:
    • LTE-M networks can support a large number of connected devices, making them suitable for scalable IoT deployments.
  10. Future-Proofing:
    • Being a part of the LTE family, LTE-M is expected to be supported for a long time, even as networks evolve towards 5G. This long-term support is crucial for IoT applications, which are typically deployed for many years.

LTE-M is a versatile choice for a wide range of IoT applications, especially those requiring mobility or higher data throughput compared to other LPWAN technologies.  All the major mobile network operators and service providers offer LTE-M services.

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