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 developed specifically 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 gaining importance as 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
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.
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 mobile network operators worldwide, whereas LTE Cat 1bis devices are currently not certified by North American mobile network operators. This however will soon change and certification of LTE Cat 1bis devices by North American MNOs is expected by Q3-2023.
A considerable cost difference
The cost difference between LTE Cat 1 and LTE Cat 1bis is significant enough that it could lead to the massive adoption of LTE Cat 1bis for low tier solutions that where aiming to adopt LTE Cat 1 in the past.
The LTE Cat 1bis device's cost will fall in between LTE Cat 1 and LTE-M but will be closer to LTE-M’s.
Due to this reduced price-gap, LTE Cat 1bis could also be adopted by those applications planned to be deployed in regions where also LTE-M is present but that do not require a device lifespan longer than the duration of 4G LTE network availability and can be permanently or frequently plugged to the power line.
On the contrary, if the long-term network availability is a key factor, beside deeper penetration that is another important factor to consider, no doubt that LTE-M is the best choice since it falls under 5G umbrella.
Delve deeper into LTE Cat 1bis as an option for Low Power Wide Area applications here: u-blox insights.
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