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.

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:

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!