Cat M1 vs. NB-IoT
LTE Category M1 is the lowest power, least expensive implementation of LTE, designed to connect machines, equipment, assets and wearable devices to the internet. AT&T and Verizon Wireless have both added Cat M1 LTE to their networks via software upgrades this year. The technology creates a new option for developers of IoT applications, but it is certainly not the only cellular option. U.S. carriers also support Category 1 LTE, which offers more speed and bandwidth than Cat M1, and is also more expensive. At the other end of the continuum is narrowband IoT, a cellular technology that has been developed as a direct competitor to low-power wide area network technologies like LoRa and Sigfox.
“With narrowband IoT, the major advantage you are getting is really a little bit better price,” said Sequans CEO Georges Karam. Sequans makes a modem that supports both NB-IoT and Cat M1. Right now, Karam sees more demand for Cat M1, which he says is applicable to more use cases because it supports voice and mobility. “You go to Cat M1 for the majority of the use cases, and NB-IoT for something that is very … low-cost and low-speed,” Karam said. “For example if you are talking about a tracker device, NB-IoT could be ideal, assuming the tracker is static. If you start talking about mobility then you need to go to Cat M1.”
Cat M1 uses 1.4 megahertz of bandwidth while NB-IoT uses just 200 kilohertz. Cat M1 caps both uplink and downlink data rates at 1 megabit per second, and NB-IoT caps both at roughly 0.2 megabits per second. Cat M1 modules are already hitting the market, and NB-IoT modules are just to starting to appear.
Karam said NB-IoT modules should be priced a dollar or two lower than Cat M1 modules based on component costs, but he said that other factors will impact cost. Right now, Cat M1 is more widely deployed in the U.S., and Karam said that could lead to higher production volumes and lower costs per unit for Cat M1 modules, and that in the near term these could cost less than NB-IoT modules.
When AT&T launched its Cat M1 network earlier this year, the carrier said modules would be priced as low as $7.50, and data plans would start at $1.50 per month per device.
Karam added that he expects NB-IoT to be deployed via carrier network software updates, just as Cat M1 was. He said it made sense for AT&T and Verizon to launch Cat M1 first because it covers more use cases than NB-IoT.
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