Webinar LTE-M vs NB-IoT: questions & answers
Recently we held a webinar on LTE-M vs NB-IoT. This was followed by a number of questions which we share here.
LTE-M has gained a lot of interest recently because many global companies want to develop stronger IoT strategies. In addition, the new network technologies that support LPWAN are starting to become globally available in the form of LTE-M and NB-IoT.
How do you know which technology standard is the best for your organization?
We discussed this in our latest webinar in November 2020, hosted by me, Jelte Jansons, Product Manager for Managed Connectivity, from Telenor Connexion. The webinar generated a lot of interest and several interesting questions were raised during and after the webinar that I’ll address here.
Apart from dep indoor coverage, isn’t NB-IoT also better than LTE-M in terms of power consumption battery autonomy, and module cost?
Both LTE-M and NB-IoT support sleep (Power Saving Mode) and snooze (eDRX). LTE-M has a larger bandwidth and better responsive time enabling it to grow into new use cases. These new use cases may use more battery compared to use cases that cannot be done in NB-IoT. But for the same use cases LTE-M and NB-IoT will have a very similar battery consumption. Deep indoor coverage can theoretical be better in NB-IoT in cases where operators enable an increase radio signaling strength from devices, but we see that this option is not always available by connectivity providers.
From your experience from the market which direction do you think the European telcos are moving towards? LTE-M/NB-IoT – because we can see quite a lot of countries with NB-IoT deployed already (as per GSMA). Not sure what is the reality in ground or coverage % is though?
Telenor Connexion has much practical experience with global LTE-M coverage, obtained by testing together with our customers and roaming network partners. We see that the market moves steadily towards NB-IoT and LTE-M in all countries in Europe. We expect that deployments will accelerate because of 5G, because 5G brings major investments and upgrades in the radio networks and core networks, that technically include both LTE-M and NB-IoT. We do not know when operators make the networks available commercially, this will much depend on business case for operators. Europe was traditionally leading in NB-IoT, driven by a few major operators and a Chinese network vendor that have many patents in this area. We see already a move from NB-IoT towards LTE-M and NB-IoT in 2020, with three LTE-M deployments, Deutsche Telekom in Germany, O2 in the United Kingdom and Telenor in Sweden.
Will SIM swap (eUICC) also work for NB-IoT devices? They do not always have SMS, correct?
Technically, yes NB-IoT can theoretically support SIM swap, but in practice it is much easier to do it with LTE-M. The 3GPP standards include SMS on NB-IoT. In practice we see that SMS is often not supported by network operators with NB-IoT. It is also important to understand that a SIM swap will be done at a large scale on remote devices, without physical access to the device. The procedure around SIM swap is not primarily for data efficiency but designed for robustness instead ensuring that all devices are remotely accessible before, during and after a SIM swap.
In which countries are LTE-M deployed?
LTE-M is widely available today on all continents. GSMA maintains a list of countries. This includes Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, Finland, Germany, Japan, Mexico, The Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Romania, Singapore, Spain, Sri Lanka, South Korea, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan, Thailand, Turkey, United Arab Emirates and United States. In Sweden LTE-M has been deployed recently and there are plans for LTE-M deployments in the United Kingdom for 2020.
When can we start to use LTE-M?
One can start using LTE-M today. Please contact Telenor Connexion for more information in this regard.
You have said numerous times that LTE-M is better for global deployments but there are far more countries with NB-IoT networks. In many countries there is not an option of LTE-M. Do you see that changing, and if so, how quickly?
The NB-IoT deployments are used for local markets, while LTE-M is a modernisation of the LTE network intended for global use cases. Global SIM cards are more readily available for LTE-M, today NB-IoT typically requires use of local SIM cards as wholesale models for NB-IoT has yet to be widely rolled-out.
Already this year we have seen the numbers slowly and steadily changing to the favor of LTE-M. There are quite some LTE-M deployments recently and we see that operators are changing their focus from NB-IoT to LTE-M. For example, a Japanese operator has decided to shut down NB-IoT in order to fully focus on LTE-M for IoT use cases.
Can I use NB-IoT to make a TLS connection to for instance, AWS? Similar, to what I can do with CAT-M1?
LTE-M has enough bandwidth to connect to a cloud service on Amazon Web Services. In NB-IoT it is technically possible, but the narrow bandwidth of NB-IoT makes it challenging, especially on a larger scale. NB-IoT can work with internet protocols, but it is designed to be used without IP, to be as efficient as possible.
Enterprises are already using non-cellular IoT for example LoRa and Sigfox. What are the advantages or key differentiators of NB-IoT and LTE-M compared with LoRa or Sigfox?
LTE-M and NB-IoT are both technologies that are globally available and offered by many vendors. Enterprises are not bound to one specific operator when choosing their access technology. LoRa is available in certain local markets, often targeting the major cities. LTE-M and NB-IoT are nationally deployed, like other 4G technologies and can be accessed with a global SIM card. The LoRA standards include technical support to enable international connectivity but this has not been widely deployed.
In addition, NB-IoT and LTE-M in general can achieve a higher quality of service due to the use of licensed spectrum and the maturity of the global mobile communication standard.
Can you expand on the problems with FOTA and NB-IoT?
You can find more details on this within the white paper.
Can we use a public cloud for IoT platform, for example AWS? Are there any drawbacks?
Telenor Connexion offers Managed IoT Cloud which is an IoT platform on Amazon Web Services. A public cloud platform enables companies to focus on their customers and use cases instead of managing data centers. Managed IoT Cloud enables a quick time to market with a limited upfront investment. The infrastructure, storage and computation needed initially, sourced at a low cost can be made available very rapidly, because the physical infrastructure is shared with other enterprises.
Companies should also consider the non-technical factors, such as potential vendor lock-in, overall cost and security, because a shared infrastructure means that companies are less in control. For most use cases though, public clouds enable companies to innovate with new use cases. Using the public cloud enables companies to not only grow their solution rapidly in case of market success, but also to “fail fast” without a major infrastructure investment.
If NB-IoT supports eSIM, can it do a ‘SIM swap’, i.e. change to another operator OTA?
Yes correct, with a SIM swap it is possible to change to another operator over the air, for example after a commercial agreement has ended. Technically this requires SMS and enough bandwidth to upload and download SIM profiles. Technically it can be done with LTE-M and NB-IoT when SMS is supported and there is enough bandwidth to support updating the SIM profiles.
In practice however we see that SMS is often not available on NB-IoT and the limited bandwidth of NB-IoT makes this challenging.
How does Telenor support device manufacturers with testing on their network with LTE-M/ NB-IoT technology?
The Telenor IoT Test Lab is specialized in analyzing the functionality of the IoT devices and products. In the IoT Test Lab, professionals test the customers product in a controlled environment to ensure reliable behavior when launched. It is important to detect possible malfunctions in hardware and software combinations early to eliminate any problems at the launch.
After testing, the customer will receive a detailed test report. Our Test Lab offers different possibilities to test your product, device and application and is located in Sweden.
Why don’t you show LoRa and Sigfox on your slides? How do you position NB IoT with these technologies?
The purpose of the white paper is to compare LTE-M and NB-IoT for global deployments as this is a question we often receive. In general, for international deployments mobile technologies have a number of benefits from being a nationally deployed in almost every country in the world and building on the immense scale of mobile broadband.
LoRa and Sigfox are more specialized and appropriate for specific use cases, for example LoRa may be a good choice for local deployments e.g., similar to WiFi although adapted to connect things.
With reference to slide 18; do you mean there is no eUICC supporting NB-IoT?
Technically eUICC can be supported with NB-IoT but there are many practical problems, that make eUICC hard to use with NB-IoT. The SIM swap requires SMS and will use a lot of the narrow bandwidth, this makes it more challenging than LTE-M.
SMS is available in LTE-M networks, while SMS is often not supported on NB-IoT. For companies that are looking for a SIM swap solution that works globally, LTE-M is the recommended choice.
How does NB-IoT co-exist with 5G?
LTE-M and NB-IoT are part of the 5G family. During standardization of 5G, the requirement has been to support LTE-M and NB-IoT. This is reflected in the architecture and physical design decisions that were made when 5G was standardized.