LTE. Most of us know it as the technology that lets us watch our videos on our phone, but the truth is, there’s much more to it than that. While high speed smartphone connectivity is how most of us know LTE today, it isn’t just about higher speeds and video streaming.
Here are three things you probably didn’t know about LTE.
Not just for smartphones
Beyond high speed smartphone connectivity, the latest version of the LTE-Advanced specification includes several medium and low speed categories of LTE designed for emerging IoT applications beyond smartphones.
These categories include LTE Cat 1, which supports 3G equivalent speeds of 10Mbps. This is suitable for medium bandwidth use cases such as video calls or autonomous vehicle control. LTE Cat M1 provides enhanced extended range and even better power consumption than LTE Cat 1. Next there is eMTC, which at 1Mbps, is suitable for lower bandwidth applications such as telematics. Finally, there is Narrowband IoT (NB-IoT), which clocks in at 27.2kbps.
These categories of LTE provide the same long range cellular performance of this proven technology at a price point suitable for medium and low bandwidth applications. Instead of having to buy gateways or routers and set up infrastructure, IoT devices simply need to integrate a compatible LTE module to connect to the cloud.
LTE can be low energy consumption
The LTE module in a modern smartphone is a major energy drain, and rightfully so, as it achieves blazing fast speeds using techniques such as MIMO. In fact, LTE doesn’t always have to be high power consumption. The new lower bandwidth LTE categories use much less energy than the LTE in our smartphones.
NB-IoT, for instance, is a particularly energy efficient protocol that uses narrowband radio. Deployed at sub-gigahertz frequencies, it has superior indoor penetration, and range in the order of kilometers, yet its energy consumption is minuscule. Designed properly, NB-IoT-based sensor devices can last 10 years off a single coin cell battery.
Differing network usage patterns also significantly lower LTE energy consumption for IoT applications compared to consumer use cases. Rather than being used constantly through the day like our phones, IoT devices are in sleep mode most of the time, and generally only wake up when a message needs to be transmitted. This allows them to use much less energy.
With these kinds of usage patterns, along with power saving modes specified in the latest LTE standards, even higher energy consumption LTE categories such as LTE Cat 1 can achieve months of battery life in IoT applications.
Wi-Fi versus cellular
One development specified in the latest 3GPP Release 13 of LTE and proposed for 5G is the blurring of Wi-Fi and cellular connectivity. LTE and Wi-Fi are currently separate technologies, but in the future, cellular networks may seamlessly log users onto Wi-Fi networks when available and users could be able to roam between the technologies transparently.
LTE/Wi-Fi aggregation is another way for cellular technologies to leverage unlicensed spectrum to improve network capacity, especially in areas already blanketed with Wi-Fi signals. This will help relieve network congestion currently experienced in densely crowded areas and improve coverage in indoor areas that are difficult to reach with traditional cellular networks.
Beyond high speeds
LTE is much more than a way to watch videos on our phone. Today it includes the capability to support medium, low bandwidth, and even ultra-low bandwidth IoT sensor type applications. Beyond smartphones, a host of other devices may soon be using LTE to communicate.