Technology

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15 May 2024

LTE Cat 1

LTE Cat 1 is a medium-speed LTE standard designed for more feature-rich IoT applications that require higher data speeds.

What is LTE Cat 1?

The LTE Cat 1 specification is a category of the Long-Term Evolution (LTE) cellular technology standard designed for IoT applications that require medium data speeds. With the sunset of 2G and 3G, 4G LTE is now the only cellular standard with broad global coverage.

 

Mobile Network Generations and the associated cellular technologies

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LTE Cat 1 from strength to strength and still going strong

Designed for a vast number of feature-rich IoT applications requiring medium data speeds, lower power consumption, full mobility, and voice support, LTE Cat 1 is the lowest cost, globally available LTE category that still delivers the speeds necessary to support video streaming with up to 10 Mbit/s downlink and 5 Mbit/s uplink.

High speed LTE categories – LTE Cat 4 and higher – come with higher power consumption and complexity, like MIMO (Multiple Input Multiple Output via more antennas), which leads to a higher total cost. Alternatively, the cellular Low Power Wide Area Network (LPWAN) categories explicitly developed for IoT and Machine-to-Machine (M2M) applications provide optimized long battery life cycles and greater in-building penetration. However, they are limited by their low data rates and regional coverage. They're also missing features crucial for voice support and mobility use cases.

LTE Cat 1 supports VoLTE and mobility

LTE Cat 1 is a good candidate to replace legacy 2G and 3G cellular technologies. In addition to good data throughput, LTE Cat 1 supports Voice Over LTE (VoLTE), implemented in almost every LTE network worldwide.

LTE Cat 1 uses standard LTE channelization and benefits from network communication handover. Handover is the capability to transfer an ongoing call (voice or data) from one cell node to another seamlessly and transparently to the user, avoiding a connectivity drop when the device is mobile.

In comparison to IoT-specific technologies, such as LTE-M or NB-IoT, LTE Cat 1 supports:

  • Voice over LTE (VoLTE)
  • Enhanced data rate
  • Low latency applications
  • Global coverage because it connects to any LTE network
  • Mobile connectivity and handover (handover is supported by LTE-M but not by NB-IoT)

 

In comparison to high speed 4G LTE categories, such as Cat 4 and greater, LTE Cat 1 provides:

  • Low power consumption with extended idle and sleep modes
  • Less complexity, resulting in a cost-optimized chipset
  • Lower solution implementation cost, especially with LTE Cat 1bis

Sunset for 2G and 3G

Thanks to their global coverage, 2G and 3G technologies survived within the IoT ecosystem into the 2020s. But now, most Mobile Network Operators (MNOs) are announcing or have already executed the 2G/3G switch-off and are migrating the related frequencies to 4G/5G. Because coverage provided by cellular LPWA technologies - Narrowband IoT (NB-IoT) and Long Term Evolution Machine Type Communication (LTE-M) - is not homogenous, LTE Cat 1 is the most cost-effective cellular technology for global coverage.

Cellular technology evolution

LTE Cat 1 – chart presenting cellular technology evolution in 5G era

LTE Cat 1 features

  • Global coverage and roaming
  • Voice support via VoLTE
  • Low latency for rapid transmission
  • Low power consumption with battery life up to 5 years
  • Full mobility and in-vehicle handover
  • Continuous data streaming

 

 

 

key features of LTE Cat 1

Could LTE Cat 1bis be a good fit for your use case?

LTE Cat 1bis provides the same throughput and capabilities as LTE Cat 1 but only requires one Rx antenna instead of two. The LTE Cat 1bis hardware is simpler, and its integration requires less effort and fewer parts, leading to a lower total solution cost.

LTE Cat 1 – visual presenting difference between LTE Cat 1bis and LTE Cat 1

Considerations for one Rx antenna instead of two

If coverage capability at the edge of the cell is vital, it is important to consider that LTE Cat 1bis devices lose 3 decibels (dB) in Rx sensitivity compared to standard Cat 1.

Another important consideration is that LTE Cat 1 is accepted by MNOs worldwide, while LTE Cat 1bis devices have not yet been certified by some MNOs and are restricted in functionality by others. For instance, North American MNOs do not certify Cat 1bis devices for voice. Even though voice calls are theoretically possible for an LTE Cat 1bis device in roaming, the network cannot distinguish whether a device is Cat 1 or a Cat 1bis. In another example, some Australian MNOs limit Cat 1bis certifications to wearable use cases. 

A cost difference that makes you wonder

The cost difference between LTE Cat 1 and LTE Cat 1bis is significant, leading to the massive adoption of LTE Cat 1bis for low-tier solutions that have historically relied on LTE Cat 1.

The costs of LTE Cat 1bis devices will be close to those of LTE-M and may become even more cost-competitive in the near future due to broader market adoption.

This reduced price gap, combined with the low power capabilities of the latest LTE Cat 1bis platforms, could make them suitable for applications intended for deployment in regions where LTE-M is also available. 

Low power consumption

Most LTE Cat 1bis chipsets support low-power modes such as Power Save Mode (PSM) and Extended Discontinuous Reception (eDRX), which reduce power consumption to a range similar to LTE-M. However, while it’s standard for most LTE-M networks to support PSM and eDRX, not all LTE Cat 1 networks support these low-power modes. As a result, IoT designers must carefully consider the importance of low-power functionality and the network on which the device may operate.

Delve deeper into LTE Cat 1bis as an option for Low Power Wide Area applications here: u-blox insights.

Use cases making the most of LTE Cat 1

man with the tablet in smart factory

Industrial automation and monitoring

LTE Cat 1 technology offers sufficient data speeds and the low latency required for many industrial applications, such as process monitoring, process control, or access control systems. Video and voice support over VoLTE are also supported, such as for access control systems (remote door opening) and alarm services.

man in front of the fleet of trucks

Telematics

Many basic aspects of a fleet’s vehicles and assets are already being monitored using cellular LTE coverage. Parameters of importance include mileage, location, stops, engine usage, hours of service, and diagnostic information for monitoring the condition of the vehicle. LTE Cat 1 provides cellular in-vehicle handover, which means connections aren't lost in a moving vehicle.

contactless payment via credit card

Payments and vending

Connected and portable POS systems, ATMs, and vending machines rely on low latency data communication to validate ATM or credit card information. LTE Cat 1’s low latency capability coupled with low power consumption make it very suitable for use in retail or hospitality applications.

street camera hanging on the lamp

Smart city / video surveillance

Many municipalities are using video surveillance and traffic cameras for public safety functions. Often it is difficult to connect these cameras through a wired connection. As a 3GPP-licensed technology, cellular connectivity provides reliable, secure service at speeds that are high enough to transmit high quality HD video.

woman setting up smart panel in her smart home

Smart buildings / smart home

Cat 1 technology has sufficient data speeds for many video surveillance use cases, while also supporting voice services via VoLTE (Voice over LTE). Many alarm services require a voice connection in case of an emergency and many home surveillance solutions make use of fixed‑position HD cameras connected to the cellular network, which allow people to monitor their homes, belongings and even pets, while they’re away from home.

patient in hospital hooked up to monitoring devices

Healthcare

VoLTE is also an important feature for many connected health applications, especially for stay-in-place solutions, outpatient monitoring and mobile medical alert systems, allowing seniors and others with medical needs to communicate directly with a service center or family member. In most regions, LTE Cat 1 has broad coverage through existing LTE networks, limiting concerns about gaps in connectivity.

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Delve deeper into LTE Cat 1bis as an option for Low Power Wide Area applications here: u-blox insights.