How Cellular IoT Connectivity Works

Paul Marshall

Founder & CCO


There are over 700 mobile networks in the world and thousands of cell towers allowing information to be sent back and forth using services like 2G, 3G, 4G, 5G, LTE Cat. 0, LTE Cat M, 4G LTE, LTE Advanced and 5G.

Cellular IoT connectivity works by transmitting data packets over-the-air through wireless spectrum to mobile network operator’s cell towers. They use a licensed spectrum, adhere to open, global industry standards, and are always operated by wireless network providers.

At Eseye, the data flows from the cell towers to one of our points of presence (PoPs) through our high-speed Multiprotocol Label Switching (MPLS) network. It then goes from the Eseye egress PoP over the internet to the customer’s network where incoming data is received and stored.

Types of cellular networks

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.


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.

Long-term evolution: LTE-M / Cat M1

LTE-M, also known as Cat-M1, is an extension to the LTE networks and part of the LPWAN family. It is designed for low-power, low latency applications that require more throughput than NB-IoT.

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.

Long-term evolution: LTE Cat1 Bis

LTE Cat1 Bis is an LTE standard developed specifically for IoT applications and challenges the LPWAN devices. It is not part of the LPWAN family but offers very similar benefits when it comes to power saving and reduced costs.

LTE Cat1 Bis used existing LTE networks for operation. The main difference is that it operates using a single antenna rather than dual which benefits smaller devices and makes it more cost effective than an LTE variant. When it comes to data rate, reliability, global coverage, cell handover and latency it offers exactly the same as LTE Cat M1.

Although the hardware costs are higher than LPWAN devices, it does provide a higher data rate, better coverage and lower latency which in some cases can outweigh the costs. However you will find that power consumption is higher than LPWAN devices.

Narrowband-IoT (NB-IoT)

NB-IoT is a type of narrowband 5G technology that uses side bands or unused parts of the GSM spectrum.

It’s designed specifically for IoT devices and 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, and static low throughput applications that require long range.

Which cellular network should I choose?

Our technical consultants are often asked this question and their answer is always the same. It depends on what you are trying to do, the problem you want to fix, your use case and how quickly you need your data to arrive. Choosing the right IoT connectivity type involves careful consideration of factors such as range, power consumption, data transfer rates, and cost. We recommend a device-first approach to ensure your device connects everywhere, every time.

Eseye has been leading the way in cellular IoT connectivity since 2007. We were the first to develop and patent agnostic multi-IMSI technology and enables businesses to connect their IoT to more than 700 networks globally with one contract, one bill and one connectivity management platform.

Our advanced range of IoT connectivity solutions and services has been further strengthened by our acknowledgement as a Visionary in the Gartner® 2023 Magic Quadrant™ for Managed IoT Connectivity Services market, Worldwide.

Are you ready to realise lasting-value from IoT?

Discover why Amazon, Shell, and Biofourmis chose Eseye’s world-leading IoT connectivity solutions for their global IoT.

Download Solution Paper

Paul Marshall

Founder & CCO


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.

Free IoT Device Assessment Speed up deployment with a free IoT device assessment.

Let our experts test your device for free. Receive a free SIM kit and speed up your IoT deployment with expert insights and seamless connectivity.