The outlook for cellular IoT

Article By : Rick Merritt

Like chip and system providers, carriers are keen to get an edge in 5G.

The second part of the article takes an in-depth look at Ericsson's newest software plug-ins as well as the outlook for cellular IoT. See first part on Qualcomm's 5G prototype for IoT here.

The latency-reduction software could cut by half typical latencies of 20-80 milliseconds on existing cellular networks. The code runs on existing Ericsson systems except for the virtualisation software which also will run on standard servers.

__Figure 1:__ *Antti Keintola, portfolio manager in Ericsson’s radio group*

“Many of the technology concepts enabled are based on those anticipated in the 3GPP standard and is designed to enable operators to begin the network and business evolution to 5G,” Keintola said. “As the standards evolve, we will continue to be on the lookout for 5G technology concepts that operators can deploy within today’s networks to prepare for 5G,” he added.

Like chip and system providers, carriers are keen to get an edge in 5G. Service providers in Korea and Japan have announced plans for trials at major events in 2018-2020, even though standards may still be incomplete or just barely finished by that time.

“You’d have to admire them for wanting to go super-fast. But they could run the risk of implementing something that will not be a part of the unified global 5G standard,” said Qualcomm CTO Matt Grob in an earlier report.

Meanwhile, as the industry tries to come to consensus on a wide variety of technical issues engineers such as Smee, assigned to track the effort, are attending on average of an industry 5G event once a month in addition to private gatherings and the 3GPP meetings themselves.

While the 5G standards won’t start to gel for about two years, the 3GPP finished on June 22 work on its 4G IoT standards, notably Category NB1, formerly known as Cat M2. The spec targets max data rates of 200 Kbits/s over 200 MHz channels, but likely will be used at about 40 Kbit/s average.

Unlike today’s 10Mbit/s Cat 1 and next year’s 1 Mbit/s Cat M1 (also called eMTC), Cat NB1 will not support voice or mobility. The stripped down cellular spec is designed to compete with ultra-low power, low cost options such as Sigfox and LoRa.

Vendors such as Sequans and Qualcomm say they will support the spec with firmware upgrades of existing chips geared for Cat 1 or Cat M. The new spec requires new hardware for carriers, so it is not expected to be enabled by them until early 2018. Once they see what market traction the new standards provide, chip makers may deliver chip sets optimised for the lower costs and power of Cat NB1.

Cat NB1 can be used with either 2G or 4G spectrum. The 3GPP also formerly ratified Extended Coverage GSM (EC-GSM-IoT) as an IoT option for 3G networks.

The diverse specs, described in detail online, let service providers choose from a menu of options. Carriers around the globe are adopting a variety of 2, 3 and 4G plans for cellular IoT.

__Figure 2:__ *GPP outlined the difference in its three new cellular specs for the Internet of Things. (Image: 3GPP)*

The 3GPP published a laundry list of specs as part of finalizing the IoT standards. Craig Miller, vice president of marketing for Sequans, said the final specs contained no surprises, characterizing them as dotting the I’s and crossing the t’s.

The new IoT specs are all part of LTE Release 13. At the recent 3GPP plenary meeting, a Release 14 Work Item was approved, aiming to extend Cat M1 and Cat NB1 capabilities, a Qualcomm spokesperson said.

More than 20 mobile network operators are committed to deploying Cat NB1, according to a cellular trade group.

Today’s LTE Cat 1 modules are emerging at about the same $25-25 prices as the 2G modules they replace with fully certified modems selling for $70-100. Carriers already charge M2M users a wide array of prices from $1 to 10 or more a month based on their data use.

Cat M1 modules are expected to ship by this fall with networks starting to launch by the end of the year. Cat M1 chips are starting to sample and going through certification. They will likely be run at half duplex rates of 300-400 Kbits/second for GPRS-like (2.5-G class) performance, said Miller of Sequans.

Cat M1 adds a sleep mode and drops the requirement of checking the cellular network every second or two, thus lowering power significantly compared to 2G and Cat 1 nets.

Qualcomm said it has more than 100 design wins across more than 60 OEMs for its existing Cat 4 and Cat 1 LTE modems. The Cat 1 power saving mode could enable some IoT end nodes to run up to 10 years on two AA batteries, it said.

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