IoT from 4G to 5G: NB-IoT and LTE-M

Lisa 2023-03-16
5g and nb iot

In the first half of 2018 China's Third Generation Development Partnership 5g and nb iotLearning Partnership to Proceed (3GPP) submitted to the International Telecommunication Enterprise Union (ITU) that NB-IoT and LTE-M technologies could be candidate solutions for IoT in the 5G era to meet the 5G LPWAN requirements described in IMT-2020.

3GPP has committed that LPWAN will continue to be part of the 5G specification process through LTE-M and NB-IoT evolution only, and 3GPP has agreed that no new LPWAN solutions will be studied for 5G. The firmware of most NB-IoT and LTE-M devices can be upgraded to support 5G, which pretty much means we are already at the 5G gate.

Nb-iot and lte-m are two lpwan technologies used for IoT applications. Both are low bandwidth cellular protocols designed for IoT devices that need to transmit small amounts of data, low cost, and long battery life.

It is worth noting that both NB-IoT and LTE-M are 4G technologies. the original design of NB-IoT and LTE-M ensures that they can operate in-band in LTE systems, sharing LTE spectrum, as does 5G NR. In the future, NB-IoT and LTE-M can operate in-band or coexist in 5G. This provides 5G forward compatibility for NB-IoT and LTE-M.

IoT's demand for network

The emergence of NB-IoT and LTE-M is not a coincidence and can be preceded by a number of other solutions designed for IoT in China. the rise of LPWAN is mainly enterprise due to the popularity of IoT, but traditional cellular network technologies like LTE solve this scenario to carry out usually need to consume too much power. In addition, they are not suitable for infrequent transmission of information data and transmission of a small amount of data applications. Examples include reading water levels, gas consumption or meters used by electric utilities.

IoT requires a low power consumption and wide coverage solution. The following four points should generally be met.

Low technology cost to support wider deployment and improve the return on investment of the application

2, low power consumption, the battery life needs to be long

3. Wide nationwide coverage, with the ability to connect to devices in an underground, in-building and rural economic environment

4. High connection capacity, there will be a large number of IoT devices connected to the IoT in the future, which is undoubtedly a huge load

The development of IoT solutions


Cat-1 represents an early push to connect IoT devices to existing lte networks. While not as good as 3G, it is a great option for IoT applications that require a browser interface or voice capabilities. Importantly it is standardized and iot is easy to transition to cat-1 networks.


Cat-1 is followed by Cat-0. Compared to Cat-1, it optimizes enterprise costs, eliminates the high data technology required features supported by Cat-1, drops support for MIMO, simplifies to a half-duplex, peak variation rates can be reduced to 1Mbit/s, and end-system complexity as well is reduced to 40% of a normal LTE terminal.

LTE Cat-M1/Cat-M/LTE-M

LTE-M is usually regarded as the second generation LTE chip built for IoT technology applications. It completes the low cost and low power consumption envisioned in the original development of Cat-0. The real implementation advantage of Cat-M over some other design solutions is mainly that Cat-M is compatible with existing LTE networks. For the enterprise operator side, this is good news for us because no they don't need to spend money on building new antennas themselves, although Cat-M connected to the LTE network environment requires the creation of a Chinese software patch.


NB-IoT is similar in purpose to Cat-M, but it uses DSSS modulation rather than LTE radios. As a result, NB-IoT does not operate in the LTE band, which means it is more expensive for providers to deploy NB-IoT in the early stages. Nevertheless, NB-IoT is touted as a potentially cheaper option because it eliminates the need for a gateway. The infrastructure of other solutions typically has a gateway that aggregates sensor data, and that gateway then communicates with a master server. However, with NB-IoT, sensor data is sent directly to the master server.

The advantages and disadvantages of nb-iot and lte-m are analyzed

Both LTE-M and NB-IoT belong to the category of M2M communication, also known as MTC (Machine Type Communication). And both are specifically designed and optimized for IoT devices that transmit small amounts of data over long periods of time. Both have specific application scenarios.


LTE-M has lower device technical complexity, supports massive connectivity network density, low device power consumption, low latency and provides a wide coverage across the country, while allowing services to multiplex LTE's basic educational facilities.

For mission-critical applications, LTE-M is the only option to support devices that require real-time communications to ensure applications meet user experience requirements. LTE-M supports voice, and LTE-M uplink and downlink speeds of up to 1 Mbps far exceed those of NB-IOT.

While lte-m supports voice, each network operator must decide whether to support voice in lte-m. Second, in the case of extended coverage, voice cannot be used in lte-m at all, and can only be supported in standard coverage areas.


NB-IoT is a solution to enable efficient communication and long battery life for enterprise large-scale distributed system devices, using China Mobile to connect us research things over the Internet. nb-ioT features improved indoor coverage (with a stronger penetration), support as well as a large number of low throughput devices, low latency sensitivity, ultra-low device management costs, low device power consumption and optimized network technology architecture.

In medical care, many patient monitoring devices need to record and transmit only a small amount of data about the patient's condition to the hospital. In agriculture, the amount of data that needs to be transmitted about weather or soil conditions is very small, and for smart cities, sensors detecting the fullness of city bins or air pollution do not require a high amount of data. This is when NB-IoT would be a better choice.

IoT covers a wide range of applications. For enterprise real-time monitoring, you may need high bandwidth. For corporate asset tracking, the data throughput is small, but there will inevitably be a lot of switching as the object of study moves. Smart meters and many smart development city use cases require students to transfer small data messages once or twice a day. This means that China has not developed a science and technology staff that can get to meet the specific market needs of IoT devices.

The Internet of Things on the Road

3G UMTS and 4G LTE technologies use different core networks, which adds complexity and cost, and operators need to abandon 3G technology to move to a single core network. The same problem will not happen in the 5G core network, which can connect to both 5g nr and 5g lte.

To ensure compatibility between lte-m and nb-iot, 3gpp is working on mechanisms that will allow nb-iot and lte-m to connect to the 5g core network. This will enable future 5g systems to use the same core network for lte, nr, nb-iot and lte-m.

Nb-iot and lte-m are just getting started. In the next few years, these low-power cellular networks will open the door to many new applications, connecting billions of devices that need remote connectivity and extended battery life.

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