What are the Differences Between LTE CAT M1 and NB-IoT Connectivity?

The rise of IoT technology over the past few years is well documented, with experts predicting there will be as many as 64 billion IoT devices in circulation by as early as 2025

To power this emergence, project managers and developers are searching for the IoT device connectivity that can support the specific ranges, bandwidths and data loads that they need covered, enabling them to successfully bring their innovative ideas to market. 

While any connectivity could technically do the job, choosing the perfect IoT solution for your project can result in improved quality of service, cost savings and operational efficiency, creating a competitive advantage that allows businesses to innovative without worry.

Two of the more popular IoT connectivity types today are LTE CAT M1 and NB-IoT. However, with numerous tech acronyms to try and decipher, it can be hard to fully understand the capabilities of each individual IoT connectivity type.

Here are the differences between LTE CAT M1 and NB-IoT  and which one would work best for your IoT project.

What is LTE CAT M1 Device Connectivity?

LTE CAT M1 – officially known as CAT M1– is a low-power wide area (LPWA) cellular technology that specializes in transferring low to medium amounts of data (200 – 400 kbps) across a wide geographical range.

With low power requirements, LTE CAT M1 greatly improves the time that devices can be spent in the field, which also limits the amount of time that needs to be spent replacing batteries or updating firmware, reducing human capital requirements and increasing cost efficiency. Plus, LTE CAT M1 features a power-saving mode that automatically activates when devices aren’t sending or receiving data, improving operational efficiency while reducing resource waste.

Since it is powered by LTE (Long-Term Evolution), LTE CAT M1 can also be a cost-effective option for IoT projects by eliminating the need to build antennas and other network infrastructure to support the IoT connectivity. In addition, LTE CAT M1 modems require less power to operate, making them cheaper to maintain in the long term.

What is NB-IoT Device Connectivity?

NB-IoT (also known as LTE CAT NB1) is a LPWAN cellular technology that doesn’t require gateways to aggregate data before sending it off to the main server as most other options do (including LTE CAT M1 devices). Instead, NB-IoT devices are directly connected to the base station, reducing costs in the long run while opening the market for more businesses to experiment with IoT.

Since NB-IoT devices rely on simple waveforms for their connectivity, they consume far less power than LTE CAT M1. However, this also means that NB-IoT devices can’t send as much data as LTE CAT M1 and aren’t able to interoperate with other cellular devices.

Should I Use CAT M1 or NB-IoT Device Connectivity for my IoT Project?

LTE CAT M1 and NB-IoT devices each have specific advantages and disadvantages, making it crucial that businesses do their research and choose the perfect fit that works for their specific needs. 

Geographic Location

Businesses that are looking to deploy their IoT project within the US may find some difficulties with NB-IoT devices considering the country is predominantly driven by LTE radios.

However, NB-IoT devices can provide tremendous value to IoT applications that are hosted in Asia – especially China – due to the prevalence of Huawei, one of the world’s leading telecommunications companies and a main pioneer of NB-IoT adoption and innovation.

In addition, with Huawei manufacturing a majority of the world’s NB-IoT components, the US ban on Huawei goods could hinder growth for your NB-IoT-powered IoT project.

Similarly, businesses that are building IoT projects with LTE CAT M1 devices could find issues in parts of Asia, Africa and Eastern Europe where mobile network operators are still using 3G connectivity.

Coverage Range

Both LTE CAT M1 and NB-IoT connectivity can handle wide ranges, however, for IoT projects with an extremely large area of coverage, NB-IoT is often the correct connectivity choice, delivering an astonishing seven times the range of current LTE technologies like CAT M1.   

NB-IoT devices excel in indoor industrial environments, providing businesses with 20+ decibels of coverage. Also, since they rely on simple waveforms and only transfer very low amounts of data, NB-IoT devices can offer better building and obstacle penetration. This provides businesses with greater range and coverage perfect for IoT projects that have sensors deployed underground or in other hard-to-reach areas with poor signal. 

Project Complexity

How your IoT-connected devices are deployed can have a tremendous impact on deciding which IoT connectivity would be best for your individual project.

For instance, if you are trying to track an asset in real time as it travels from one location to another, LTE CAT M1 connectivity may be the optimal choice as it can seamlessly switch from one cell tower to another without dropping connection as a regular cellular phone could.

On the other side, if a data transmission powered by NB-IoT connectivity is interrupted even momentarily by a lost signal or moving from a fixed location, the transfer will be stopped until the device is reconnected.

The Value of Intelligent IoT Connectivity

Every day, businesses are solving age-old problems and automating complex processes with innovative IoT applications powered by the perfect connectivity for the job at hand. 

IoT cellular connectivity – whether LTE CAT M1 or NB-IoT– can provide tremendous value to a project depending on what is required. However, choosing the right IoT connectivity isn’t always straightforward. There can be plenty of variables, obstacles and factors that can make it difficult to determine what is best for the growth of your IoT project. 

Let Soracom help you power your IoT project with cellular connectivity that provides the most coverage and uptime at the greatest price point. 

We’ve helped over 15,000 businesses drive their IoT dreams to reality with powerful cellular connectivity that is built specifically for IoT applications, delivering tremendous value at a fraction of the cost of competitors.

Plus, our expert team is ready and willing to answer any questions that you may have about your IoT project, providing you with the information and resources that you need to take your business to the next level.

Ready to innovate your project with intelligent IoT cellular connectivity? Book a demo with Soracom today to learn more about our revolutionary IoT products and services.