Cat M LTE on the horizon, while Cat 1 LTE spreading around the globe.

At Mobile World Congress this year, LTE (long-term evolution) chipmakers were talking about their Cat M LTE solutions with some even announcing chipset availability, including Sequans, Cat M refers to the new narrowband categories of throughput defined in the next release of the 3GPP LTE standard, Release 13. The coming new release focuses on further refining LTE for use in IoT and M2M (machine-to-machine) applications, making it super cost and power efficient for the many new machine-to-machine applications that don’t require high throughput. LTE is developing in two paths: in one direction toward higher and higher throughput as needed for high definition video to play on smartphones, and in another towards lower throughput and ultra low power consumption as needed for M2M applications where devices are idle or asleep most of the time. The beauty of LTE is that both types of devices can coexist harmoniously on the same LTE network and benefit from LTE’s longevity, security, and standards protection. This has been proven in the last year with the testing and deployment of Cat 1 LTE technology, the lowest throughput category (10 Mbps) of the existing LTE standard.

If you’re an IoT (Internet of Things) or M2M device-maker looking for an LTE solution available now, Cat 1 technology is your only option, but Cat 1 is an excellent option, suitable for many types of IoT/M2M applications and it will continue to be suitable even after Cat M networks roll out next year. Cat 1 networks have begun deploying, beginning first with Verizon Wireless early this year. Other network operators, including AT&T and T-Mobile in the USA and Telstra in Australia have publicly announced the launch of Cat 1 network and device trials, using Sequans’ Cat 1 chipset, Calliope. In Japan, NTT Docomo has recently certified Sequans’ Cat 1 chipset for use on its network, and other Asian operators, notably in China and South Korea are following suit. The availability of Cat 1 technology has LTE-enabled the Internet of Things, and proven the importance and suitability of LTE for many types of IoT applications.

Cat 1 technology, with throughput speed capped at 10 Mbps, is significantly less complex and less power hungry than Cat 3 or Cat 4 technologies with 100 Mbps and 150 Mbps of throughput, respectively, but it is perfect for those IoT applications that still need moderate amounts of throughput. Think of ATMs with video surveillance or retail kiosks with financial transaction components and/or voice command options. Many IoT applications require voice over LTE (VoLTE) and Cat 1 technology fills the bill for these kinds of applications.

When Cat M technologies become available and networks deployed, LTE for IoT will spread to the numerous types of very low throughput, very low power consumption applications such as industrial sensors, asset trackers, or wearables that wake up periodically to deliver only very small amounts of data and then go back to sleep. Cat M1 is about 1 Mbps maximum, and Cat M2, about 40 kbps, designed for ultra low-power/low data applications.

Cat M is on the horizon, and until then Cat 1 LTE technology will continue to spread to LTE networks worldwide, supporting many M2M and IoT applications both now and in the future.

Kimberly Tassin, director, marketing communications, Sequans Communications. She can be reached at