LTE-M: A Bridge Between NB-IoT and 5G

15.03.2022 by Ümit Günes

A crane stacks containers at a container yard

Globally available cellular networks are the basis of the Internet of Things. Many connected applications already run successfully on existing wireless standards. What improvements can we expect from LTE-M and 5G?

From smoke alarms in the smart home, logistics shipments and Industry 4.0 industrial robots to connected production facilities and vehicles on the road, around 30 billion devices currently interact around the world on the Internet of Things (IoT). Progressive digitization in industrial and business enterprises continues to drive the trend. In five years’ time up to 75 billion devices, buildings, machines, goods and vehicles will be sharing data on the Internet, according to the market researchers at IHS. That will open up new sales opportunities and business models. It will also present fresh infrastructure challenges. The capacities of the 2G GSM standard are no longer sufficient for many industrial uses. In a number of countries they will be wound up in the near future or have already been shut down.

The precondition for this rapid increase in networking is powerful mobile technologies for the Internet of Things such as NarrowBand IoT (NB-IoT, aka CAT-NB1) and LTE-M (Long Term Evolution for Machine-Type Communication, CAT-M1). Both are Low Power Wide Area (LPWA) network standards. Their wireless modules and transmission require little energy yet provide wide coverage. NB-IoT and LTE-M networks are based on 4G (LTE) but are also part of the 5G standard for Massive Machine Type Communications (mMTC).

The nuSIM, the integrated SIM (iSIM) designed specially for the Internet of Things, makes low-power machine networks even more powerful. It integrates the SIM card’s functions in the communication chip. IoT devices with a nuSIM use less electricity than chips with a separate SIM card and are the right choice for compact modules with a long battery life such as connected parking sensors, smart trash cans or cost-efficient trackers.

The 5G mobile wireless standard will not only give global machine networking yet another boost; everything in all areas of life and work will become smart: from the smart home and smart office via the smart factory, smart production, smart logistics and smart farming to smart cities.

Each IoT solution has specific network requirements. Here is an overview of the most important facts, benefits and application scenarios for 5G and the LPWA standards:

NarrowBand IoT (NB-IoT): Small Data Volumes, Long Distances, Strong Penetration

For IoT solutions that only transmit small amounts of data now and then NarrowBand IoT is ideal for corporate or municipal loT projects. Its data rate is limited to a maximum down- and upload speed of 250 kilobits per second. NB-IoT’s latency, however, is too high for critical areas of machine-to-machine (M2M) communication such as transmitting important information like real-time data or time-critical alarm messages.

  • Benefits: NB-IoT modules are limited to essential functions. They cover long distances on extremely low energy consumption and at low cost. NarrowBand IoT provides a high level of building penetration and transmits reliably from basements and sewers or through thick concrete walls. Depending on usage, the module’s battery can run for up to ten years. In contrast to proprietary technologies such as LoRaWAN or Sigfox, NB-IoT is an international, reliable, and future-proof industry standard for IoT connectivity that is available on a balanced geographic basis and is also a part of the 5G family.
  • Availability: countrywide
  • Enterprise applications: Smart City solutions like Smart Parking (navigates motorists smartly to a free parking space), Smart Waste Management (empties trash cans subject to waste level) and Smart Lighting (intelligent urban street lighting); Smart Buildings (facility management, digital access control, monitoring and alarm systems); Smart Metering (automatic remote meter reading); Construction Equipment Monitoring (localization and optimized maintenance of machines in factories); Smart Home/Smart Office (digital security systems, access control, heating and ventilation systems).

LTE-M: A Bridge Between NB-IoT and 5G

LTE-M is suitable when a slightly higher data throughput are required along with good building penetration and a low energy requirement for the modules. That is where the energy-saving nuSIM comes up trumps. LTE-M is based on the LTE-3GPP standard and is therefore 5G-compatible.

  • Benefits: Compared with NarrowBand IoT, LTE-M provides higher data rates (up to 350 kbit/s), lower latencies and short text message support with wide coverage. Optimized energy consumption, good indoor coverage and up to 50 percent lower module costs compared with conventional wireless modules are additional benefits.
  • Availability: Telekom already provides countrywide network coverage in Germany and many other European countries.
  • Enterprise applications: Smart City (Air Quality Management), Smart Building (sensor-connected buildings), Wearables (sensor-equipped fashion wear or fitness trackers), E-Health (digitization of healthcare such as data transmission for remote monitoring of connected cardiac pacemakers), White Goods Monitoring (monitoring of household devices), Smart Tracking and Smart Lighting (transmission of larger amounts of data such as continuous status monitoring).

5G: Powerful Radio Performance and Low Latency for Critical Business Applications

5G is 100 times faster than 4G (LTE). In optimal conditions the 5G data transmission rate is up to 20 Gbit/s in download and up to 10 Gbit/s in upload – ideal speeds for all ti me-critical solutions on the Internet of Things.

  • Benefits: Several external antennas sharing a data transmission enable extremely critical applications to interact, so 5G enables sensors and devices with a high level of connection security and low latency to communicate with each other.
  • Availability: 5G network availability is already widespread. Over 90 percent of German households can now access Deutsche Telekom’s 5G network. By 2025 Telekom aims to offer 5G to 99 percent of the population and to provide 90 percent country coverage. Business and industrial enterprises in rural areas will then be able to use high-speed broadband for IoT applications and further digitization.
  • Enterprise applications: Campus networks (now also as 5G NR standalone networks for, say, autonomous industrial robots), autonomous driving, E-Health (digital health, the digital patient), Telemedicine, Smart City, Smart Grid, Smart Factory (optimizing machine runtimes in manufacturing by analyzing large data volumes), Predictive Maintenance (in manufacturing), Video Monitoring (smart video) and streaming, Platooning (controlled convoy driving of trucks), Smart Farming, Logistics (smart containers, supply chain monitoring).


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Ümit Günes
Ümit Günes

Marketing Manager IoT

Having been with Telekom since 2008, Ümit possesses a comprehensive understanding of various facets of the Internet of Things. He has a keen interest in the digital transformation of the business world. On this blog, he shares insights into the latest developments and trends in the IoT sector that provide genuine value to customers.