The Internet of Things (IoT), a network of connected devices that can communicate with each other and exchange data, is an ever-growing fixture in modern enterprises. From smart fitness trackers to industrial sensors and smart city infrastructure, businesses are constantly looking for the best ways to utilize IoT and the different technology types on the market. One strategy gaining traction in the IoT world is the use of Cat-M (Category M) technology.
Cat-M (also known as LTE-M) is a type of cellular technology designed specifically for IoT devices used at scale, meaning it can handle tens of thousands of IoT devices. As a low-power wide area (LPWA), Cat-M is low-power, low-cost, and low-bandwidth technology that enables devices to connect to the internet via cellular networks. But what is Cat-M exactly, and is it the same as 5G?
Cat-M is part of the LTE (Long-Term Evolution) technology group, which separates it from 5G, a newer cellular technology that offers faster speeds and lower latency than LTE. However, Cat-M IoT is designed to be more power-efficient and cost-effective than traditional LTE, making it a great option for IoT devices that don’t require high-speed connectivity.
What Are the Benefits of Cat-M?
The benefits of Cat-M come from its evolution from older LTE technologies. “Cat” or “categories” within the LTE groupings refers to the capability of each device that attaches to an LTE network. Cat 1 devices, for example, can download at a speed of 10 Mbps while Cat 4 can download at 150 Mbps. Cat-M1 devices can operate on a narrow 1.4 MHz channel and have download speeds in the 589 Kbps range. These low-power and low-bandwidth features make the following benefits possible.
- More devices to connect. Because Cat-M runs on much smaller frequency bands (1.4MHz), you can connect more devices to each cell site, which is ideal if you have a large fleet of IoT devices.
- Preserving device battery life. Because Cat-M devices have a power-saving mode (PSM) due to their low-power function, the device can go into sleep mode more easily and save battery life.
- Extended Discontinuous Reception (eDRX). You can also optimize when tracking updates are sent, like when the device is being actively used, and/or create set intervals for when devices receive data. This can extend the battery life of a device by several years.
- Extended Range: Cat-M technology is designed to work over longer distances than other low-power IoT connectivity options, which means that it can be used in applications that require connectivity over large areas.
- Faster connection times. Another advantage of Cat-M is how fast Cat-M modems can boot up, especially compared to a cold boot-up for Cat 1 modems. This results in faster connection times, better connectivity, etc.
- Cost and power optimized. 4G and LTE tend to use a lot of power and bandwidth, which drives up cost and consumption. Cat-M technology on the other hand finds a better balance between cost and power use for small data transfers, which is a better way to spend your money if you more regularly transfer small amounts of data like many IoT devices.
When to Use Cat-M for IoT Devices
Cat-M is best for businesses or industries that need to cover large geographical spaces, send small data packets, and have a large fleet of devices that need to continuously function at scale. It works for a wide range of IoT applications, including the following examples:
- Smart city infrastructure: Smart cities are capable of monitoring traffic, air quality, and other environmental factors, so the wide-reaching range of Cat-M technology and low-power functions are ideal for this setting.
- Industrial IoT: Sensors are used constantly in industrial settings that are tracking and monitoring different equipment, vehicles, packages, and more. Cat-M technology is often best suited for connecting sensors and devices in these industrial environments, such as factories and warehouses, to optimize the operations of these businesses.
- Agriculture: Monitoring crop health and optimizing irrigation and fertilization are all done with high-tech sensors and devices, and these small but constant data exchanges function well with low-power Cat-M technology.
- Healthcare: Cat-M is also useful for medical devices and sensors, such as glucose monitors and heart monitors, which improve patient care, data tracking, sending and receiving data, etc.
Comparison with other IoT connectivity options
Typical 4G LTE networks are not designed to support IoT devices that require low-power, low-cost connectivity. They are instead optimized for smartphones and other high-bandwidth devices for faster download speeds, which means that they are often overkill for IoT devices. This drives your expenses up and ultimately means that your network is less power-efficient than Cat-M networks.
Cat-M isn’t the only low-power wide area IoT connectivity option available, either; there is also NB-IoT (Narrowband IoT) and LTE Cat 1. NB-IoT is designed to support devices that require extremely low power and low bandwidth, which makes it ideal for applications that require long battery life and low data usage. There are limitations, though, since NB-IoT has a shorter range than Cat-M. Cat-M is the better option for both low power/low bandwidth and better connectivity over long distances.
LTE Cat 1 is designed to offer higher bandwidth than Cat-M, which means it can support devices that require more data-intensive applications. However, similarly to 4G LTE, LTE Cat-1 is generally more expensive and less power-efficient than Cat-M, which makes it less ideal for devices that require low-cost, low-power connectivity.
Implementation of Cat-M for IoT businesses
Implementing Cat-M for IoT devices isn’t without its challenges, including compatibility with existing infrastructure, network coverage, and device management. To overcome these challenges, your business may have to update or modify some of the existing processes or setups.
For example, you can upgrade your existing infrastructure to support Cat-M technology, including both your hardware and software. Cat-M networks are not yet available everywhere, so you should also check the availability of the network in your area before committing to Cat-M. It’s also wise to invest in device management solutions so that you can better monitor and manage your devices more effectively.
How SIMON IoT Can Help
Though somewhat new, Cat-M technology has already shown great promise in the IoT space. We will likely see even more advancements in Cat-M technology that will prove useful in a myriad of IoT applications.
SIMON IoT is one of the few companies that allow you to use T-Mobile’s CATM1 network, which means you get the benefits of the huge and secure T-Mobile network while enjoying affordable pricing and customizable plans with SIMON IoT. Plus, Cat-M networks are best suited for large fleets of IoT devices, and SIMON allows you not only to tailor your data plan but to monitor data usage and protects you from overages. Get Started with SIMON IoT today to find the best cellular plan for your devices!