NB-IoT vs. Cat-M1: Which is Better for Your Massive IoT Needs

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NB-IoT vs. Cat-M1: Which is Better for Your Massive IoT Needs

Most modern organizations know that digitization is essential for staying competitive and agile. IoT solutions can provide the necessary boost for fixing pressing problems, limiting risks, increasing efficiency, and making better fact-based business decisions.

IoT is rapidly approaching the point of moving beyond testing stages in a few operations to being used across sectors on a significant scale. Such Massive IoT deployments are the future.

Organizations have several choices available when it comes to connectivity in Massive IoT. However, companies must understand the differences between current options to select what best suits their deployment needs.

What is Massive IoT?

Massive IoT is a highly scaled-up version of IoT. It is a situation that does not exist currently but will soon. Massive IoT solutions will include giant networks of sensors and actuators, which will require reliable and safe connections.

Organizations need a clear roadmap to make the most out of this new era in digitization. A large scale IoT solution should have excellent reliability and operational efficiency.

Some of the needs of a scalable massive IoT solution are:

  • Must be able to work under challenging conditions
  • The devices should consume low power
  • Security should be adequate
  • Cloud solutions that can handle massive amounts of data will be needed
  • Mobile and web interfaces for easy maintenance and operation 

What are NB-IoT and Cat-M1?

LTE Cat M1 and NB IoT are complimentary low bandwidth protocols used in IoT devices.

Both are 3GPP standardized technologies and optimized for the needs of IoT applications such as industrial controls, residential security smart metering, municipal infrastructure, or precision agriculture.

Although complementary to one another, the two technologies address different use cases according to the capabilities of their technologies.

Differences in a Nutshell

Cat-M1 – Category M1 (Cat M1) is a low-powered wide-area (LPWAN) technology designed for IoT projects. Like other LPWAN networks, it performs best while transferring low to mid-range amounts of information over long distances.

  • Wider bandwidth: 1.4-megahertz cellular bandwidth allows faster data rates (1 Mbps), lower latency, and more accurate device positioning.
  • VoLTE: Can handle high bandwidth use cases like voice over LTE.
  • Mobile: Has applications in transportation and supply chain tracking.
  • International Roaming: Suitable for international roaming use cases where devices must move between cell towers frequently.
  • America Centric: LTE – M was rolled out in North America in 2017.
  • Higher Cost: The device cost and complexity are higher than NB-IoT.

Use cases for Cat M1 include:

  • Smart vehicles.
  • Smart devices.
  • Home security.
  • Supply chain tracking.

On the other hand, NB IoT – Narrowband IoT or NB IoT was designed for low bandwidth IoT workloads and massive IoT. Narrowband IOT technology provides a long-term roadmap for IoT device makers and is a critical component of 5G standardization.

  • Narrower Bandwidth: It has a narrow bandwidth of around 200 kHz and data speeds of 250 kbps. It is meant for use cases where small delays are acceptable.
  • Deployment Flexibility: Ability for LTE Guard band deployment provides flexibility. Guard bands are unused parts of the spectrum that prevent interference.
  • Lower Costs: NB-IoT is based around low complexity devices. Ultra-low-cost narrowband modules should be available soon.
  • Massive IoT Centric: Low bandwidth IoT workloads allows thousands of devices to connect to a single base station.
  • Not Mobile: Devices can be relocated using idle mode mobility but will not perform as well.
  • Extreme Coverage: NB IoT has extreme coverage capability and can support low data applications in challenging radio conditions.
  • Euro-Centric: NB IoT was primarily Europe centric but has been released in the USA in 2019.

Use cases for NB IoT include:

  • Smart meters.
  • Sensors.
  • Other Devices that used to send frequent updates from a fixed location.

Choosing the Right Technology for Massive IoT Deployment

To choose the right technology for your needs, you should consider your IoT device’s requirements against the differences we discussed between Cat M1 and NB-IoT.

Consider the following points while making a decision:

  • Availability: America has Cat-M1 while Europe has NB-IoT.
  • Bandwidth requirements: Cat-M1 has higher bandwidth and speeds.
  • Hardware costs: NB-IoT is cheaper.
  • Roaming requirements: Cat-M1 has better roaming.
  • Device mobility: Cat-M1 is more mobile.

Both technologies are future-proof, 5G technologies. They can co-exist with 5G NR and fulfill every MTC requirement.

When it comes to cybersecurity, devices connected to narrowband NB-IoT networks can communicate using NIDD or Non-IP data delivery. This facility can offer significant power and security benefits. Meanwhile, Cat M1 allows LPWAN technology to be used in a licensed spectrum and is also great for security, including sensitive applications such as defense and law enforcement.

As both standards have specific use cases, understanding differences is key to forming your Massive IoT strategy.

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