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There seems to be a bit of controversy about LTE (long-term evolution). The debate focuses on LTE for the IoT (Internet of Things) regarding the coming Cat 0 technology that will appear in the next release of the 3GPP standard, Release 12. There is one camp that believes companies can just upgrade Cat 1 chips to make them Cat 0 when the standard gets finalized. However, on the other hand, there is another camp that insists merely upgrading to Cat 1 hardware is a mistake if you are really going to take full advantage of Cat 0 efficiencies and benefits. Connected World magazine, Editorial Director Peggy Smedley, recently asked LTE chipset maker Sequans Communications, Vice President of Worldwide Marketing Craig Miller, to address this very topic and to explain why his company resides in the latter camp.
The discussion about Cat 0 or Cat 1 seems pretty simple, but—like any technology—never is because there are always many factors to consider. First and foremost, before taking the technology plunge of any kind, there are some basic questions that any company needs to ask and answer. These questions can be applied to most technology applications that seek to remain aggressive with today’s IoT (Internet of Things) competitive environment. Is the technology ready for primetime? If it’s not ready now, when will it be? Is it going to be ready within your business parameters that make sense to the company’s bottom line? Are there regulations that are requiring immediate change that need to be considered? What are the costs? Do you have staff to make the necessary changes and to maintain the upgrades as they occur within the company? Does your company have specific technology requirement updates that must occur now or later?
In the example of Cat 0, it is not here yet, so Cat 1 is the way to go for many M2M and IoT applications. However, there are alternatives that can help. But are these alternatives going to be effective in the long run, or are they just adding costs? When Cat 0 is fully defined it will outline significant reductions in complexity, which in return will allow LTE modems and modules to compete directly in cost and power. Will the new technology be disruptive and require significant changes in terms of the infrastructure? Once these questions are answered making technology upgrades tends to be a lot easier.
Making it cost-effective to connect things to the Internet via LTE is the primary objective of the 3GPP’s LTE roadmap for MTC (machine-type communications). In Release 12, recently published, the standard defines Cat 0 speed of 1 Mbps (Cat 0), and subsequently, even lower speed will be defined in Release 13, referred to as “Cat M,” measured in kilobits per second. The purpose of this roadmap is to sequentially reduce complexity in the LTE chipset to reduce cost and make LTE directly competitive to alternatives.
For maximum efficiency, you must have the right size chip for your application. Cat 1 chips, available today, are suitable for many industrial applications including telematics, digital signage, and security systems. Cat 0 chips, coming next year, will be suitable for lower-speed applications such as utility meters or other sensor/monitoring devices. It’s certainly possible to run a Cat 1 (10 Mbps) radio at Cat 0 speed (1 Mbps), but this is like running a Maserati only in first gear—a great waste of power and money! Optimized silicon—purpose-built for the Release 12, Cat 0 specification—is essential for reducing cost and enabling the market to benefit fully from the new innovations. Similarly, the coming Release 13 specifications defining Cat M will require a new generation of highly optimized chipset design to reach the cost and market objectives.
That being said, there are some advantages in developing software to support some of the features defined in future 3GPP releases on silicon designed in prior release specifications. As an example, one of the software-centric capabilities expected to be defined in a future 3GPP release describes power saving techniques that allow IoT/M2M devices to sleep in an ultra-low-power state for long periods of time (such as a smart meter waking up once a day to report usage). You could run the new power saving software on earlier generation chipsets and realize some of the power savings, but you won’t get all of the power saving benefit nor any of the cost saving benefit until you run this new software on a new, optimized chip of the right size.
LTE is the present and the future for M2M and IoT and is, therefore, disruptive. LTE Cat 1 technology is available today for numerous applications and the 3GPP roadmap for LTE Cat 0 and Cat M, specifically defined for MTC, ensures that LTE will continue to be the best M2M/IoT connectivity solution.