In this blog post, we will look into the differences and similarities of LTE-M (Long Term Evolution) and NB-IoT (Narrowband IoT). The right choice of technology tends to depend on your need, but is it always so? Or is one of them better than the other? One of the aspects that LTE-M and NB-IoT have in common is that they can run on less powerful hardware and have long battery life. However, NB-IoT was designed for stationary devices from the beginning, whereas LTEM was designed for roaming. The following two sections will provide examples of situations in which the two technologies can be used.
When is NB-IoT the best choice?
Let us look into what NB-IoT can do first of all. If you need to get a signal from a device installed in an environment, where you normally would not be able to get a signal from a GSM solution, then you should consider using the NB-IoT technology. This could for example be if you install smart sewer traps, which are placed beneath concrete and asphalt. Here a GSM connectivity would fail and even the LTEM solution would be hard-pressed to get a signal through to the cellular network, but the NB-IoT has proven to be able to do the work. However, NB-IoT like Lora and Sigfox has limitations on the distribution cross border. With an NB-IoT solution, you could easily face the challenge of having to install different SIM cards dependent on the connectivity provider of the specific region. An example could be that you cannot use the same SIM-card provider for NB-IoT in the southern UK as you when installing your devices in the northern UK. In this case, you most likely would have to have several connectivity providers in order to sell your devices in the UK.
Why choose the LTE-M solution?
What about the LTEM solutions then? LTEM is a good candidate if you have a need for lower cost, reduced power consumption for long battery life, and no need to transfer large amounts of data. Furthermore, if you do not need a signal penetration strength like the NB-IoT and might once in a while have a need to move your devices to new locations, then the LTEM solution would be a good choice. Most connectivity providers of the LTEM solution can provide roaming agreements enabling you to cover a lot of countries without the change of SIM-card. This solution enables you to provide solutions that you can sell across borders.
The NB-IoT and LTEM have complementary capabilities, but managing them cross the border can be a difficult matter. Your connectivity provider should be able to provide you with chipsets that can cover both technologies so that you on the same chipset can have both LTEM and a fall back to NB-IoT (or vice versa). This is beneficial in case of hitting a region where one or the other network is not available, and even with a 2G/3G failover solution embedded.
We hope you found this blog post relevant concerning when to use LTE-M and NB-IoT. In TrapMe, we often talk to potential customers about the reasons why we do not offer an NB-IoT solution like LoRa or Sigfox. The NB-IoT costs less than our 2G and LTE-M solution, but in our case, the LTE-M is currently more suitable for our TrapMe traps. As our traps need to be located in remote areas and even moved to different locations, the 2G and LTEM are the best technology for our device. In your case, it might be more suitable with an NB-IoT or another type of technology, hence, the right choice of technology always depends on the context.
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