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Selecting the best cellular connectivity for M2M

Posted: 21 Mar 2014     Print Version  Bookmark and Share

Keywords:cellular  M2M  2G/3G  LTE  Weightless 

M2M connectivity encompasses a broad range of technologies and devices. Despite it being considered as if it were a single technology, it is actually a highly fragmented application space served by complementary and sometimes competing technology standards.

It covers a number of different markets and verticals that have diverse specifications for parameters that include throughput, mobility, power, cost, real-time application and ease of deployment. So which is the best technology to use for M2M?

Although short range communications, served by technologies such as ZigBee, Bluetooth-LE and WiFi, represent an important part of the M2M connectivity domain, long range cellular standards are more appropriate for a wide range of applications and markets, and are expected to grow substantially over the next year.

The reasons for using cellular for M2M obviously include mobility and coverage, but cellular technology also offers advantages to the operator in terms of widespread deployment and ease of device management. Nevertheless it is clear that M2M poses many additional challenges to traditional cellular networks that use technologies such as GSM, UMTS and LTE. In particular, some M2M use cases require devices to be deployed deep in buildings, where the coverage limitations of cellular technologies can adversely impact deployment feasibility and costs. Many applications also require battery-operated equipment ideally to survive for many years, which could be critical in certain application domains in order to keep down deployment and maintenance costs. Minimising the cost of the devices is also an important enabler for the widespread deployment of the Internet of Things (IoT) business model.

One of the most promising profiles of M2M is expected to what 3GPP defines as 'low-cost, low-power, high-coverage non-real time applications using infrequent small bursts and limited mobility.' The cellular technology that best serves this requirement is GSM/GPRS, and more than 60 per cent of today's M2M modules (and a much higher proportion than this in Europe) are using 2G connectivity, with SMS most commonly used as a simple and efficient data communication service.

Traditionally it has been assumed that the use of UMTS and LTE connectivity will increase as more data is required by the final applications. For example, the average M2M module is forecast to generate 330MB of mobile data traffic per month in 2017, up from 64MB per month in 2012, and M2M connections will grow from 5-17 per cent of all cellular connections over the same period. Comparatively higher ARPU users will require the much more expensive 3G and 4G devices.

Although certain vertical sectors, e.g. automotive M2M modules, will make more use of data for entertainment and informatics, and M2M security devices for example will require real-time video, the low-cost 3GPP-defined M2M profile will still be prominent in device numbers, and to suit these applications M2M devices will require a lower cost profile. As more M2M modules are deployed, the reliance on 2G networks will pose a problem for operators who need optimal spectrum efficiency and consolidation of access technologies, since decommissioning of GSM/GPRS in the US is expected in 2016-2017, while new wireless operators without access to 2G or the relevant spectrum allocation may need to enter the M2M market. These operators would not be able to wait until 2017 for the mainstream LTE modem devices compliant to Release 12 or Release 13 specification, when cost reductions of machine type communication (MTC) devices in the LTE radio interface will have been implemented. Release 12 M2M devices will be able to identify themselves as 'Category 0' LTE UEs, and a number of specification adaptations, such as single RF chain, reduced bandwidth and peak rate, are estimated to reduce the cost of the device by up to 60 per cent.

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