Fleet telematics solutions normally communicate with cellular networks, such as 2G, 3G and 4G. Despite it is a common practice, such solutions could become not optimal and over expensive for applications that require only low data transmission. The LTE Cat-M1 and NB IoT technologies could be favorable in such a scenario, providing opportunity for reducing communication costs while preserving low power consumption and high connectivity. Current markets are showing increasing interest to LTE Cat-M1 technology as a very promising long-term solution. For example, enormous amount of companies already employ 2G and 3G based telematics solutions. For these companies Cat-M1 could be a great option, providing the opportunity to cut off the costs and increase efficiency. We further discuss the LTE Cat-M1 / NB IoT technology and its advantages for fleet owners.
LTE Cat-M1 and NB-IoT: whats the difference?
Narrow band IoT (NB-IoT) and LTE Cat-M1 (Long Term Evolution (4G), category M1) are both very hot sub-topics if one speaks about IoT nowadays. Both these technologies are major cellular technologies, capable of supporting IoT smart sensors and device connectivity. However, they are targeting different IoT challenges and applications: NB-IoT generally is better at addressing static applications such as utility metering and lighting, whereas LTE Cat-M1 typical applications include wearable devices, connected vehicles, alarm panels and trackers.
Both LTE Cat-M1 and NB-IoT are capable to provide fairly low deployment costs, adequate in-building coverage and low power consumption. Cat-M1 benefits from relatively wide 1.4 MHz bandwidth, latency dropping down to 10 milliseconds, higher data rates with a peak values up to 1 Mbps. With voice calls support on top of all these nice characteristics, LTE Cat-M1 immediately becomes favorable for mobile use cases. But it does not mean that LTE Cat-M1 advantages are making NB-IoT completely useless.
While NB-IoT has significantly lower data rate with 200 KHz bandwidth, it actually leads to even lower power consumption, better signal penetration, longer operation range and potentially higher deployment density. These features make NB-IoT a great choice for low throughput fixed solutions, such as various sensors and utility meters. Given that Cat-M1 and NB-IoT in most cases are addressing different applications, those two are more like complementary technologies, rather than competing.
LTE CAT-M1/NB-IoT and “G”-legacy
Both vehicles telematics providers and fleet owners are already offering and using 3G and 4G based solutions. Even 2G is still around and not dead completely.The question is how well LTE Cat-M1 and NB-IoT fit into this situation? Well, actually LTE Cat-M1 and NB-IoT are relying on mobile network infrastructure that is already available and can be flexibly integrated across any licensed bands. Another thing is that LTE Cat-M1 potentially provides a cheaper vehicles-to-network connection and data extraction opportunity compared to 3G. Does it mean that this is a correct time to say farewell to all those “G”-s and utilize LTE Cat-M1 devices instead? Well, not quite – at the moment, at least. One of the greatest challenges is that there is still a lack of well-established worldwide commercial roaming agreements and protocols to proceed with international LTE Cat-M1 arrangement. Without all these necessary paperwork, direct use of LTE Cat-M1 in fleet management could be a headache. However, with a time these challenges will be solved and LTE Cat M1 could became a cheap and efficient technology for vehicle telematic solutions.
A “real-world ” example
Let’s consider a few examples of LTE Cat-M1/NB IoT telematics technologies implementations that are currently commercially available on a market. To start with, there is a range of LTE Cat-M1 and NB-IOT devices by UFind. In particular, they offer a Matrix 2 – a low cost and reliable 4G Cat-M1/NB-IoT GPS Tracker. Claimed features include compact 2G or 4G Cat-M1/NB-IoT, GPS/ GLONAS tracking, 3D accelerometer and a variety of inputs and outputs to cater for entry-level tracking application.
Another example is FMM130 by Teltonika. FMM130 is a small and professional real-time tracking terminal with GNSS and LTE CAT-M1/NB-IoT/ GSM connectivity and backup battery. According to the datasheet, the device is equipped with GNSS/Bluetooth and LTE CAT-M1/NB-IoT modules with fallback to 2G network, internal GNSS and LTE antennas, configurable digital, analogue inputs and digital outputs, negative input, impulse inputs. It claimed to be perfectly suitable for applications where location acquirement of remote objects is needed: fleet management, car rental companies, taxi companies, public transport, logistics companies, personal cars and so on.
Moving forward, there is 4G CAT-M1/NB-IOT GPS tracker by Digital Matter. The Dart 2 is a compact and economical GPS/GLONASS tracking device available in 2G or 4G Cat M1/NB-IoT. Claimed features include high sensitivity GPS with LNA, 3D accelerometer, driver ID Support: RFID, i-Button or Wiegand, internal back-up battery and Wired or Emulated Ignition Detection.
As a last but not least example, we could name a TK319L 4G LTE Cat M1 Vehicle Tracking Device for Automotive & transportation by Shenzhen Eelink Communication Technology. Following the description on the website, TK319L 4G LTE Cat M1 vehicle tracker supports full hand‑over between network cells from a moving vehicle and is therefore well‑suited for mobile use cases with low to medium data rate needs, such as vehicle tracking, asset tracking, telematics, fleet management and usage‑based insurance. It provides accurate real-time location and driving behavior event, supports multiple sensors such as temperature sensor, humidity sensor; supports multiple external equipment for various applications.
Current markets are showing an increasing interest to LTE Cat-M1 technology as a very promising long-term solution, allowing efficient fleet telematics alongside with reduced overall costs, high level of connectivity, relatively low deployment costs, adequate in-building coverage and low power consumption. Both LTE Cat-M1 and NB-IoT can be fairly flexibly implemented across currently licensed bands, opening a possibility for further integration with 4G and possibly 5G based solutions.