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Cellular roadmap for IoT ignores LTE Cat-0 option

Posted: 02 Nov 2015     Print Version  Bookmark and Share

Keywords:Qualcomm  LTE  4G  LPWA  eMTC 

The road map for low power cellular geared for the Internet of Things (IoT) has become too congested that the Category 0 option for 4G LTE may no longer come to pass. In the past year a growing set of low power wide area (LPWA) networks have emerged targeting IoT. Sigfox, LoRa, Weightless, Ingenu and others aim to undercut the cost and power consumption of today's cellular.

In the rush to respond, Altair and Sequans are shipping LTE Category 1 chips that ratchet data rates back to 10Mb/s (downlink) and 5Mb/s (uplink). Qualcomm officially announced it will deliver its own Cat 1 chips early next year.

Vendors had planned a follow up LTE Category 0 that would lower maximum data rates to sub-Mb rates with chips that could have shipped before 2017. However, vendors decided that specification would not offer enough differentiation before its follow-on emerged, Category M also known as eMTC.

"CAT-0 is in fact being skipped, and we have argued it should be for quite a while," said Eran Eshed, a co-founder and VP of marketing and business development at Altair. "It offers marginal cost savings over Cat 1, no power advantages over Cat 1 and requires infrastructure upgrades that Cat 1 doesn't."

Moving forward with Cat M

"Furthermore Cat M is now just around the corner, so the motivation for carriers to go to Cat 0 is practically not there, yet we do support it for customers who insist on Cat 0," he added.

Category M by all accounts is the big win. It will target a max data rate of 100Kb/s to 200Kb/s with features that make it more spectrum efficient than what was planned for Cat 0, said Aapo Markkanen, an analyst at Machina Research. Others suggest Cat M could deliver data rates of 400Kb/s to 700Kb/s.

Just when Cat M arrives is unclear. Qualcomm would only say its chips for Cat M and a separate class of 3G-based networks called narrowband IoT (NB-IoT) are "expected to align with the 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP) Rel.13," suggesting it's unclear when the specs will be complete enough to start building chips.

"I'm being told that the specification for LTE-M (Cat M) is pretty complete and ready to be included in LTE Release 13, but I've found it impossible to get a coherent response from the vendors about what it actually will entail," said Markkanen.

Updates on NB-IoT and Sigfox

NB-IoT was itself the result of vendors with competing proposals agreeing to collaborate. Markkanen believes it will target max data rates below 50Kb/s and as such be the closest rival to the non-cellular LPWA IoT networks such as Sigfox. In terms of costs, Machina analyst Andy Castonguay believes Cat 1 devices are hitting $18-25, while Cat-M aims for $7-10 and NB- IoT targets $5-7.

"NB-IoT should offer a slimmer [chip] and lower cost than Cat M where use cases require slower and lower power connectivity. We will support both on our next generation chip," said Eshed of Altair.

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