What Is Cellular IoT (CIoT) in mobile networks?

IoT, or the Internet of Things, has been around for a long time, and it is a system of devices connected to the internet to communicate with each other or with other systems. The value IoT brings is that connected devices can provide information or trigger actions to facilitate many tasks that we encounter in our daily lives. While there are many ways to look at an IoT system, the three critical components of IoT are hardware, connectivity and software application. A simple example can be a smart lighting system where a smart light bulb (hardware) can be connected to a local WiFi network (connectivity) and controlled by an app (software application). Even though the actual value of an IoT system comes from the hardware and the application, connectivity remains an essential part. Cellular IoT is a type of IoT that uses a cellular network for connectivity.

Cellular IoT (CIoT) is a set of technologies that allows IoT (Internet of Things) devices to connect to the internet using a mobile cellular network. CIoT stands for Cellular Internet of Things and employs GSM-IoT, NB-IoT and LTE-M technologies to provide connectivity for IoT devices.

Cellular IoT (CIoT), also known as Mobile IoT, is an IoT system that uses mobile networks to provide connectivity to IoT devices. Digital mobile networks have been around since the early 1990s when the second generation (2G) of mobile networks was introduced through GSM (Global System for Mobile Communications) and D-AMPS (Digital Advanced Mobile Phone System). Today, the latest cellular technology is New Radio (NR) which represents the fifth generation (5G) of mobile networks; however, LTE (Long Term Evolution), which is a fourth-generation (4G) cellular technology, is the most commonly available technology. Cellular IoT can be currently enabled by variants of the GSM and LTE technologies, including EC-GSM-IoT, NB-IoT and LTE-M.

What are the requirements for Cellular IoT?

The three key areas that outline the essential requirement for cellular IoT are low device cost, extended network coverage and low power consumption. Unlike mobile phones, where it’s easy to check the network coverage (signal bars) before using them, IoT devices can often be required in awkward locations. For instance, gas and electric metres can often be found in indoor locations concealed in a cupboard and hard to reach for a mobile signal. Therefore, a mobile signal needs to be very strong in order to reach these difficult locations. As a result, one of the requirements for cellular IoT is for the mobile signal to be 20 dB stronger. The other key aspect is the device cost because a good penetration of IoT devices requires the prices to be as low as possible, which can be achieved through less complexity. Finally, there is a need for low power consumption for the battery to last for several years rather than replacing the battery every few months.

EC-GSM-IoT, LTE-M and NB-IoT

EC-GSM-IoT, LTE-M and NB-IoT are low-powered wide-area (LPWA) technologies that work on cellular networks to provide connectivity for IoT devices. These technologies together enable cellular IoT using the existing mobile networks.

EC-GSM-IoT

EC-GSM-IoT stands for Extended Coverage GSM Internet of Things, and it is based on 2G GSM networks. It is a long-range, low complexity, low-powered technology designed to be backwards compatible with existing GSM networks. EC-GSM-IoT uses the EGPRS (Enhanced GPRS) technology within GSM EDGE networks and can work with existing GSM base stations through a software upgrade without requiring additional hardware. The application of EC-GSM-IoT is in IoT use cases where low data rates are needed for non-real-time scenarios, e.g. metre readings from a smart metre. It can facilitate data rates of 160 bits per second (bps) or more with a latency of around 10 seconds. Furthermore, the battery can last up to ten (10) years due to low power consumption.

LTE-M

LTE-M stands for Long Term Evolution for Machines, and it is an IoT technology based on the 4G LTE networks. LTE-M is different from EC-GSM-IoT in that it is suitable for use cases where a higher data rate is required for real-time scenarios. LTE-M can enable up to 1 Mbps in both uplink and downlink with a bandwidth of around 1.080 MHz. The battery life for devices that support LTE-M is about ten years. It can support voice and data, and use cases include traffic lights, parking sensors and smart cities.

NB-IoT

NB-IoT stands for NarrowBand Internet of Things or Narrowband IoT and is based on the 4G LTE technology. Like EC-GSM-IoT, it is designed for non-real-time use cases such as utility metres. It has multiple categories, and Cat NB1 can offer peak downlink data rates of up to 226.7 kbps, whereas Cat NB2 can offer peak downlink data rates of up to 282 kbps. NarrowBand IoT, as the name suggests, employs low bandwidth of 180 kHz.

Conclusion

Cellular IoT or CIoT stands for Cellular Internet of Things, and it is an umbrella term that encompasses various cellular technologies to connect IoT devices to the internet through mobile data. It employs various low-powered-wide-area (LPWA) technologies, including Extended Coverage GSM IoT (EC-GSM-IoT), NarrowBand IoT (NB-IoT) and Long Term Evolution for Machines (LTE-M) to connect IoT devices to the internet through GSM and LTE networks.

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