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Mar 12 2015

LTE-M — the best choice for Internet of Things connectivity

This blog is by Volker Held, head of Innovation Marketing at Nokia Networks. Twitter: @V_Held 

It’s not about more of the same

Will the future bring only more of the same — more new smartphones, new tablets and different screens? Probably not.

In addition to the continued demand for mobile broadband, we are already seeing an explosion of possibilities for consumers, industries and  societies enabled by the Internet of Things (IoT). After connecting mankind, we have now started connecting the things around us. The IoT and related topics such as wearables were probably the top trend at Mobile World Congress (MWC) last week in Barcelona. This extends far beyond the hype as the IoT is driven by practical benefits and massive business interests from various industries such as healthcare, automotive, utilities, and manufacturing (“industry 4.0”). Wireless sensor networks, for example, can provide remote monitoring and sensors for parameters such as heart rate and blood pressure, which lead to clear cost savings in the health sector and save people’s lives.

In the near future, the things around us such as cars, parking lots, watches, shirts, and factory machines will be connected and therefore able to automatically inform us or fulfill our needs, adapt to our behavior or business processes, as well as learn and organize themselves. The question is: how should we connect all the things around us in the best way? Two aspects need to be considered:

* Firstly, cellular technology is not the natural choice for IoT connectivity. There are already a variety of semi-standard and proprietary technologies in use that were designed to meet the needs of machine type communication, mostly built for particular use cases. For example, Wave2M.org, SIGFOX, OnRamp Wireless and Nwave are a few of these competing technologies

* Secondly, LTE, the latest and most advanced mobile technology, is designed for high data-rate mobile broadband, but it has not been optimized for the specific requirements of machine type communication. It will require excellent coverage even in remote locations or behind concrete walls, as well as years of battery lifetime and profitable operation, even if the connection only produces monthly revenues of €3 or less versus the €30 for smartphone connectivity.

Less is so much more with LTE-M

Thus the idea of LTE for machine-to-machine connectivity (LTE-M) was born: an LTE variant which is fully compliant with LTE standards but meets the requirements of the IoT and embraces the principle of "less is more". The resulting benefits are threefold:

Minimal costs: To achieve the required cost point, the LTE chipset has been simplified. Connecting to a mobile network requires a cellular modem in the device. Current modems in LTE networks have aimed at tens of megabits to enable high resolution imaging and video content. Such functionality is unnecessary for many IoT applications, which produce only hundreds of bits of data. Therefore, 3GPP Release 12 has defined LTE-M for machine type communication with a different set of Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) including reduced bandwidth, lower maximum transmit power and reduced support for downlink transmission. Further cost reductions are being addressed in Release 13 and beyond.

Battery life of 10+ years: For many use cases, it is crucial that the device can operate for long periods of time, even years, as charging or changing the battery can be costly. In addition, a depleted battery would interrupt the machine communication, which could pose a serious problem for safety-critical applications. LTE-M has incorporated multiple features to address these challenges. One example is the increase of the Discontinuous Reception (DRX) cycle from 2.56 seconds to 2 minutes for two AA batteries. With this simple change, battery lifetime increases up to 10 years.

Enhancing coverage by a factor of 4: Compared to conventional LTE, this enhancement can be achieved by a combination of technologies including power boosting of data and reference signals, repetition/retransmission, and relaxing performance requirements (such as allowing longer acquisition times or higher error rates).

In case you missed the live demonstration

Standardization of LTE-M will be finalized at the beginning of 2016. In partnership with KT, Nokia has already shown a live demonstration of a complete LTE-M solution at MWC 2015 that links a large number of wearables, cars and smart grid elements with one another. We showcased a variety of use cases such as smart grid, traffic and parking steering, and lightning control. The setup consisted of a Nokia Flexi Zone FDD base station (1.4 MHz), Nokia Evolved Packet Core and Home Subscriber Server and new Nokia sensor technology. The IoT applications ran on a cloud platform.

Given the obvious advantages, LTE-M is here to stay. Operators can be provided with the technology to run massive machine type communication over their existing networks without the need to build an additional network with proprietary technology. Furthermore, the entire economy will benefit from this global standard-based approach as it accelerates innovation, drives cost efficiency and guarantees interoperability. This scenario would not be possible, however, with a fragmented landscape of semi-proprietary technologies allowed to prosper. With LTE-M, mobile networks will become the natural choice for IoT connectivity and a component of future 5G networks.

For more information on the demonstrations, please contact Nokia Networks' Solution Experience Center.

You can find more Nokia FutureWorks publications here and read these press releases for more details:

Nokia and KT sign agreement for the programmable world

Nokia Networks to power Internet of Things with 5G connectivity and network security #MWC15

Please share your thoughts on this topic by replying below - and join the Twitter discussion with @NokiaNetworks using #NetworksPerform #mobilebroadband #innovation #IoT #FutureWorks #5G #LTE.

About Volker Held

At Nokia, Volker is focused on combining the technology and business side of innovation. He heads Nokia’s 5G market development activities for the company, helping to create the future of telecommunications. He was also one of the founders of Nokia FutureWorks and brought Technology Vision 2020 to life.

Tweet me at @v_held