A technology for all. Why LTE Cat-1 technology is transforming cellular connectivity.
With the retirement of 2G and 3G inevitable, the IoT industry is going through a transition period that is seeing it migrate to new forms of network connectivity. A wide and sometimes bewildering range of choices are available but LTE Cat-1, thanks to its performance, cost and ubiquity is set to become a champion, adopted by increasing numbers of organizations to power their IoT deployments. In this article, Delbert Sun, the vice general manager of Quectel Wireless Solutions demystifies why LTE Cat-1 is proving so popular.
Why LTE Cat-1 has more of the answers more of the time for IoT connectivity
An increasing percentage of the IoT industry is looking for an all-in-one solution that provides excellent, reliable and secure coverage while also delivering cost advantages, optimal tariffs and global coverage that enables roaming and voice over LTE (VoLTE). LTE Category 1 (LTE Cat-1, or just CAT-1) brings together all of these attributes and this makes it an indispensable connectivity technology for IoT.
IoT is a vast market with very broad use cases and this means there is no superior or prevalent connectivity. Different applications might use different technology for various reasons. 2G is still very attractive in developing countries because of its ubiquity but it is unsuitable in North America because the technology is being retired.
One size doesn’t fit all but many applications have similar requirements and CAT-1 attributes are proving popular. Analyst Firm, Berg Insight, for example, has estimated that 28 million CAT-1 modules were sold in 2018 and has forecast that module shipments in 2020 will exceed 55 million units worldwide. ABI Research forecasts that shipments will continue to grow and will exceed 212 million pieces in 2023.
These positive forecasts are likely to be adjusted because of the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, but it’s clear that CAT-1 will play a vital role in connecting devices in upcoming years, especially as uptake is led by fast-growing markets such as China and India.
Why CAT-1 is being chosen
CAT-1 supports a terminal with a maximum downlink rate of 10Mbps and an uplink rate of 5Mbps. CAT-1 can also support full-duplex frame division duplex/ time division duplex (FDD/TDD) modes, as well as Voice Over LTE (VoLTE). These attributes differentiate it from alternatives including:
CAT-1 vs. NB-IoT
Narrowband-IoT (NB-IoT) has been widely adopted by mobile network operators and original design manufacturers because it provides improved indoor coverage, supports large numbers of low throughput networks for IoT, has high sensitivity, ultra-low device cost, lower power consumption, and an optimized network architecture.
NB-IoT is suitable for smart metering, smoke sensors, and other similar applications, where CAT-1 is viewed as overkill. All these applications are stationary or require basic low-speed mobility. For these reasons, NB-IoT is not generally considered to be a direct competitor of CAT-1.
CAT-1 vs. CAT M1
CAT M1, also known as LTE-Machine-to-Machine, low-cost machine-type communication (MTC) or LTE-enhanced MTC (eMTC) was defined to be a native part of 5G in 3GPP Release 16. CAT M1 aims to meet the needs of IoT devices based on the existing LTE carriers. eMTC supports peak data rates of 1Mbps for uplink and downlink.
There are some differences on VoLTE between CAT-1 and CAT M1. As already stated, CAT-1 can fully support VoLTE at its high bandwidth but, due to the fact that CAT M1 belongs to the narrow bandwidth category, it cannot provide the best user experience.
The key missing item is cellular network readiness. CAT-1 is considered as native in LTE, whereas CAT-M1 has to be purchased by the mobile network operators (MNO) as an add-on. CAT 1 doesn’t require software and hardware upgrades for the base station, so there are no network coverage costs.
Next CAT-1 vs. CAT-4
CAT-1 vs. CAT-4
The main difference between the two networks is the fact that the CAT-4’s focus is on the high data rate market, whereas CAT-1 is suitable for the medium rate market. CAT-4 has a maximum download rate of 150Mbps and an uplink rate of 50 Mbps. However, 3GPP’s Release 13 defines the CAT-1 bis standard which allows a CAT-1 device to use a single antenna and this can save cost compared with CAT-4. Carriers in China and the USA are already trialling CAT-1 bis networks in the field and Quectel has plans to support the CAT-1 bis standard.
Both CAT-1 and Cat-4 use the same network so there are no extra costs of deployment on the mobile network operator’s side. Since LTE has been developing for some years now, the network is relatively mature. In addition, there will be a significant positive impact on CAT-1 shipments due to economies of scale and technology advancements in designing and producing a low-cost CAT-1 platform.
It is expected that CAT-1 will become an optimal IoT solution worldwide because it has already proven itself in use cases such as smart grids, tracking, wireless payments and portable batteries to name just a few application areas in which millions of CAT-1 devices are already connected.
In addition, new use cases will appear in the near future, such as cloud-based cameras, push-to-talk over cellular, VoLTE and smart wearables. The blend of coverage, cost, ubiquity and familiarity remains CAT-1’s greatest attraction and is likely to see continued widespread adoption as device numbers grow from millions to billions.
For more information on why LTE is transforming cellular connectivity, download Quectel’s latest free white paper on LTE Cat-1 today.