Cellular IoT Connectivity: What Business Leaders Need to Know

Paul Marshall

Founder & CCO

LinkedIn

IoT is a gigantic network of connected “things” – unique hardware devices that transmit critical operational, transactional or sensor data. Anything can be connected from your toothbrush, a vending machine to wearable technology in healthcare. IoT can be applied to any industry and is enabling us to lead smarter lives.

According to Juniper Research, the number of IoT devices in 2021 will reach 46 billion. For any IoT device to deliver on its promise, it must have access to a secure, reliable connection.

Are you looking to produce and deploy IoT devices but not sure which connectivity solution you need? 

In this guide, we’re going to explore:

After reading, you’ll know whether cellular connectivity is the best route for your IoT initiative and what to look for in your IoT connectivity provider.


How cellular IoT connectivity works

Cellular networks are based on open, global industry standards, use licensed spectrum, and are always operated by wireless network providers.

Cellular connectivity allows information to be sent back and forth using mobile networks and includes services like 2G, 3G, 4G, 5G, LTE Cat. 0, LTE Cat M, NB-IoT, 4G LTE, and LTE Advanced.

The GSMA has introduced two additional LTE standards, NB-IoT and LTE-M which are primarily designed for LPWA use cases but are still in the initial stages of rollout.

When to choose cellular IoT

Cellular connectivity is utilised by IoT devices in all industries from smart cities, smart vending machines, telehealth, energy, point of sale and payment processing, to logistics and supply chains.

Commercial IoT (i.e., not home connected devices) is powered by wireless communications and cellular connectivity which allows multiple devices to communicate with each other at any one time. Sensors collect and communicate information and respond to changes in the device’s environment – all enabling in-depth data analysis and the ability to make better business decisions.

Here’s a quick overview and comparison of the different connectivity options.

Connectivity Technology

Frequency

Data Rate and Power Consumption

Range

Use Cases

Bluetooth

< 1 GHz

1 MBps

Up to 50m

Industrial IoT (IIoT)

Wi-Fi

100 MBps

Up to 50m

Smart home

BLE:(Zigbee

 Z-Wave)

100 KBps

Up to 100m

Cellular (2G

3G

4G

5G)

Cellular bands

Licensed cellular LPWAN(LTE-M

EC-GSM

NB-IoT)

Up to 1 MBps

Unlicensed LPWAN(MIOTY

 LoRa

Sigfox)

Up to 20 KBps

GSM (2G, 3G)

GSM is the second-generation mobile telephone system and includes 2G and 3G. Primarily designed for voice, the standards also support SMS and GPRS data. They are proven, widely adopted standards, with hardware available at a low cost.

Many mobile operators are in the process of shutting down 2G and 3G networks in favour of newer technologies. Before choosing a 2G or 3G service, it’s essential to make sure the service is available for the timespan and locations required.

LTE (4G, 5G)

LTE is the 4th generation mobile network system. Introduced in 2012, 4G is primarily designed for better scalability and wireless broadband. Although it’s not as wide range as GSM, it provides much higher data rates – comparable with Wi-Fi.

The latest standard is 5G.

5G has bandwidths of up to 1 Gbps, and enables high-speed communication with high capacities and very low latency. It can be used in mission-critical applications, such as autonomous vehicles, as well as applications such as VR, AR, gaming, and any use cases requiring real-time response.

The parallel operation of 4G and 5G promises greater capacity and faster network speeds in the future.

LPWAN

Low-power wide-area networks (LPWANs) and low-power wide-area networks (LPWAs) are types of wireless wide-area networks. Their purpose is to facilitate the transmission of data between connected devices over long distances at low bit rates. LPWAN technology standards include LTE-M and NB-IoT – both of which enable battery-powered devices to operate reliably for their entire lifecycle in the field, often 10+ years.

Our partners at Thales say that ‘LPWA Network (LPWAN) technologies strengthen the business case for IoT solutions, offering a cost and power-efficient wireless option that leverages existing networks, global reach, and strong built-in security’.

LPWAN is used for a wide variety of applications like asset and goods tracking, industrial process monitoring and control, smart lighting, meters and solar panels, crop and livestock management and predictive analytics solutions.

Narrowband-IoT (NB-IoT)

Designed specifically for IoT devices, NB-IoT has the following characteristics:

NB-IoT doesn’t support seamless handover when switching to another cell network tower. It can switch cells but must re-establish the connection, which takes more power. NB-IoT is better suited for large scale deployments where the requirements do not change with time, sensors are static, and indoor coverage is of top priority.

Long term evolution (LTE-M)

LTE-M, also known as LTE Cat-M, is an extension to the LTE networks. Like NB-IoT, it offers a low speed, low power, long-range protocol for small bandwidth applications. Although it doesn’t provide the same length of battery life as NB-IoT, it offers higher bandwidth, so is a good candidate for use cases with higher volumes of data.

LTE-M is run on top of LTE base stations, making implementation more attractive for network operators as no dedicated hardware is needed. LTE-M can operate over a range of approximately 10-15km.

The power-saving capabilities, eDRX and PSM, can also be used with devices that connect to LTE-M networks.

LTE-M is suitable for a wide variety of applications like smart meters, alarm systems, smartwatches, to more complex and remote environments like drain sensors installed deep underground. LTE-M is a good choice for moving IoT devices, for example, assets that need to be tracked and monitored for many years without intervention.

Is cellular the right IoT connectivity solution for you?

There are advantages and disadvantages of cellular connectivity which will help you decide if it’s the right connectivity solution for your device:

Advantages

Disadvantages

Coverage

Wide coverage

even in remote locationsLimitless rangeConsistent and reliableStandard low power wide area (LPWA) cellular IoT (LTE-M and NB-IoT) give deeper coverage especially in remote areas and undergroundNetwork switching/non-steered roaming to connect to the network with the strongest signal coverageMinimal device downtime

Bandwidth

Good bandwidth and speed (on par with Wi-Fi)

Cellular NB-IoT offers a lower data rate – good for stationary and low powered devices.Roaming is not supported on NB-IoT

Security

High-security standard: data is encrypted by defaultAutomatic security updates

Cost

Low installation costsLow support and hardware costsLoRaWAN or LPWAN is optimised for low data rates and low power operationRemote management

High data bills can incur if the device uses roaming or has not been localised

Advantages and disadvantages of cellular IoT connectivity (2G, 3G, 4G, 5G, LTE Cat.0, LTE Cat M, NB-IoT, 4G LTE, LTE Advanced)But one size does not fit all when it comes to IoT connectivity. Here’s a visual overview of how each technology stacks up in terms of cost, data rate, power consumption and range.

Diagram from Industry Today: Best Uses of Wireless IoT Communication Technology

How to maximise and manage cellular connectivity coverage

There are over 800 mobile network operators providing cellular connectivity worldwide. Primarily cellular connectivity was designed for consumers and not IoT which is why you’ll find that MNOs historically quote coverage based on population, not geo-coordinates.

Transforma Insights report “cellular networks today cover around 98% of populated areas. However, they’re a long way short of 98% territory coverage – often closer to 60%.”

IoT devices are expected to operate for many years. But a large majority of devices don’t stand still – they’re crossing borders and continents, going places where humans don’t inhabit. IoT devices require a continuous, reliable connection to function and gather accurate data.

Roaming

IoT roaming is one of the solutions to enable connectivity in many countries around the world. Roaming tends to be more expensive for the end-customer in the long-term due to:

The connectivity model is having to evolve because roaming is not a viable long term connectivity solution for IoT. With global IoT deployments becoming more common, devices can be at risk from permanent roaming restrictions which prohibit a device from connecting in a country that is not its nominal ‘home’ territory beyond a specific period, for example, more than 3 months. In some countries, the regulators or networks have imposed roaming restrictions and only allow a SIM to roam for a limited period in one country.

eSIM and localisation

With modern eSIMs, switching from one connectivity service provider no longer requires the UICC to physically be changed, as is the case for traditional SIM deployments.

eSIM is conceived as a flexible, over-the-air solution enabling the SIM to use a local MNO network profile or a choose from a greater choice of roaming partners.

When combined with localisation, eSIM eliminates permanent roaming challenges and improves application performance.

Learn more about how eSIM localisation can solve roaming challenges for enterprise IoT >

Cellular connectivity management platforms

A connectivity management platform (CMP) enables organisations to effectively manage connectivity across a global IoT deployment. It offers flexibility and choice – devices can switch connectivity to a network that suits them best, and the CMP allows continuous monitoring and management of devices at an individual and aggregated level.

Learn more about the key functions of a connectivity management platform >

Why network redundancy is critical for cellular IoT

Ever heard the saying don’t put all your eggs in one basket? The same applies to IoT connectivity. You can’t rely only on one network’s connectivity. What if it fails, loses availability, or rates skyrocket?

For IoT devices to work at optimum levels they must have access to a consistent, secure, and reliable connection always, regardless of location. To achieve this result, additional networks should be available for connecting devices, ensuring redundancy within the network.

Network redundancy

A Multi-IMSI SIM can store multiple IMSIs, enabling devices to switch to different networks without physically changing the SIM. This offers peace of mind and network redundancy – if something goes wrong with one network due to an outage, for instance, the SIM can switch to another network as a backup to avoid connectivity loss and device downtime.

Connectivity providers offer multi-IMSI solutions with different levels of sophistication, functionality, and security. Some solutions can use over-the-air updates to download additional IMSIs and remotely manage the IMSIs on a SIM.

Infrastructure redundancy

An Access Point Name (APN) is the name of a gateway between a cellular network and another computer network, such as the public internet. Like a home broadband router, it acts as a gatekeeper between individual end devices and the internet.

The role of an APN in IoT is to allocate IP addresses to devices and route data between devices and endpoints, such as backend systems and websites.

Equipment can fail, cables break (or get stolen), disasters happen (fires, floods, earthquakes etc) – infrastructure redundancy is essential to prevent interruptions to service.

How we provide infrastructure redundancy

Our AnyNet solution uses multiple data centres worldwide, connected by a global MPLS core, to host POP (Point of Presence) interfaces for carrier interconnects.

Each network operator has a connection to a primary data centre, which is the most suitable one for their geographic operation. They are also configured to have a secondary data centre for use if the connection to their primary data centre fails.

Within each data centre, equipment is configured to have a spare that can instantly take over if there’s a failure to the main equipment. For example, firewalls in data centres operate in pairs, with the backup firewall running in hot standby so that it can automatically take over if the primary firewall fails.

Cellular IoT security

IoT devices are prone to cybersecurity attacks which can be devastating for an organisation and its customers. The majority of IoT devices are unmanaged and were not designed with security or management in mind, making them easy targets for malicious attacks.

With this in mind, it’s crucial that organisations treat IoT security seriously. Organisations with IoT devices deployed around the world and across various mobile network operators (MNOs) need to be able to mitigate risk to ensure operational resilience and business continuity.

We have strategically partnered with Armis, a leading agentless device security platform provider, on a joint IoT security solution that enables organizations to deploy connected devices anywhere in the world with enterprise-class security and consistent, reliable cellular (4G/LTE/5G) connectivity.

The Armis and Eseye technologies create an industry-first synergy, delivering a secure and connected ecosystem for mobile devices across industries. Here are some of the advantages:

How we can help your business with cellular IoT connectivity

Our intelligent patented network switching AnyNet technology helps organisations achieve near 100% secure universally available cellular connectivity for their IoT devices.

We have established the AnyNet Federation and has 14 direct ‘interconnect’ partnerships with MNOs worldwide, which combine to deliver access to 700 operators’ networks.

These special partnerships enable our customers to seamlessly switch from one operator profile to another, meaning that coverage blackspots are eliminated. It also means devices can be localised onto local networks. No other IoT connectivity provider has access to this unique network of interconnects or can offer a similar device localisation capability.

Our AnyNet offering means organisations only need to design, deploy, and manage a single device SKU which works globally; reducing the time, cost, and complexity of an IoT development and deployment when compared with the standard, fixed-network approach.

Find out how we can help your IoT deployment achieve close to 100% global connectivity through our advanced cellular IoT technology.

Talk to an IoT expert

Paul Marshall

Founder & CCO

LinkedIn

Paul is one of Eseye’s co-founders. With a background in senior design engineering, Paul’s focus is on ensuring his development, operations and support teams deliver solutions that work faultlessly in the field.

Paul was co-founder of CompXs, with Ian Marsden, and developed the world’s first IEEE 802.15.4 radio. Before CompXs, Paul was in senior radio design at Philips.