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LTE? LPWA? NTN? Which is best for your IoT?

Ever wondered what the difference is between different cellular IoT protocols and what they bring – or don’t bring – to your connected products? Quectel knows what you need…

In our next piece from ipXchange’s vast coverage of Embedded World 2024 – all puns intended – Eamon chats with Tomasz from Quectel about cellular IoT and what engineers should be thinking about when selecting a protocol for a given use case.

As Tomasz first outlines, there are several considerations that you need to make at the start of the process when designing a cellular IoT product:

  • Power consumption
  • Serviceability
  • Cost of implementation
  • Coverage given the geographic location of your devices

The two main categories of protocols for the future of cellular IoT are LTE (4G), which encompasses CAT 1 and CAT 1.bis, for example, and LPWA for CAT M and NB-IoT, as well as other things. Tomas highlights the main advantages of each scheme and the applications that they serve best:

LTE holds a distinct advantage in terms of coverage for cellular IoT projects. Signal is available in almost every place where there are people, with the exception of rogue states. For cellular IoT devices that need to cover multiple territories, LTE is the way to go, and if you use an eSIM, the power consumption can be made comparable to LPWA.

One can therefore infer that LPWA is usually lower power than LTE. Tomasz also expresses that it has a better link budget and greater penetrating power, making it suitable for use underground – like in a carpark – or in large buildings. He expands on this by saying that NB-IoT is great for non-moving use cases, such as for smart metering or building monitoring devices like smoke detectors. Cat M is better for cellular IoT products like pet trackers and mobile payment machines.

When it comes to coverage, however, LTE wins out over LPWA, so this may be the deciding factor when building your cellular IoT device.

But there is always a disruptive technology on the horizon – again, all puns intended – as Eamon spotted some NTN modules, i.e. ones that use direct-to-satellite communication, rather than cell towers.

Tomasz explains that these NTN solutions are best used as an extension of terrestrial cellular IoT networks, but at this time, only SMS-level data bandwidth is possible. Quectel offers several NTN-ready modules, including ones with additional LPWA cellular IoT connectivity and a size optimised version for smaller products. Due to the extra coverage provided by satellite-based communication, these are a great fit for open-sea applications and paragliding.

We hope that you’ve learnt as much as we did from this chat with Tomasz, so if you’re in the world of cellular IoT – or any other form of IoT – follow the link to the user-defined board form below to get connected with Quectel and discuss your project requirements. We’re sure that there will be a module that suits your use case better than you could have imagined.

Keep designing!

Love IoT and wireless technology? Here are a few protocols that are a little different from the standard, but boy are they disruptive:

A firmware modem for Bluetooth cloud connectivity

Wirepas’ non-cellular 5G mesh network in action!

User-Defined Application Form For Quectel IoT Modules & EVB Kits

Unsure of the best connectivity protocol for your IoT use case? Let Quectel weigh in on your decision.

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