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3 Reasons for Transitioning Connectivity Technologies to LTE-M

As with many things in life, new connectivity technologies enter the marketplace as the latest, greatest thing ever―until they are replaced with newer, better, faster, cheaper upgrades. This concept has held true since before the Internet of Things was introduced to the world. In this paper, we will look at three main reason why enterprises with IoT deployments move from one technology to another―technology sunsets; module (radio) costs; and the extension of battery life so as to lower long-term ownership costs.

If your connected devices have low network bandwidth requirements and need longer battery life, or if the connectivity method you are using is about to be sunsetted and will go away, or if your deployments number in the tens of thousands and battery costs are eating you up, then LTE-M is the perfect wireless technology for you.

Long-Term Evolution for Machines (LTE-M or LTE-CatM1) presents a simple solution to these issues. LTE-M is a low-power, wide-area IoT connectivity protocol that can piggyback on existing LTE networks to provide the solution for the limited amount of data needed. The slower speeds provided by this technology are ideal for use with IoT-enabled devices.

Following are three hurdles that can be overcome by implementing or transitioning to an LTE-M IoT solution.


1: Sunsets

CDMA Shutdown
As with other connectivity technologies before it, Code Division Multiple Access (CDMA) has entered its sunset phase and, within a few years, it will be gone altogether. In some places, CDMA (including all 2G and 3G) will reside for longer periods of time, while in other places, changes will occur much more quickly. As with the 2G GSM sunset initiated in January 2017, companies already have plans to sunset additional technologies, including CDMA. After 2018, Verizon has no plans to further certify new CDMA devices and, by 2019, it will have sunset them all. Sprint expects to sunset all CDMA by 2022. Other technologies now in use will last longer, some much longer. But make no mistake about it, eventually all these technologies will be rolled over to newer, more efficient protocols.

With the CDMA shutdown imminent, and other protocols shutdowns, such as 2G, already underway or completed, carriers are actively working to move customers toward a newer technology. Keep in mind, the value these carriers hold is spectrum—and at this point, 2G and 3G are inefficient allocations of spectrum. Thus, carriers are looking to re-farm the spectrum and get legacy devices to LTE or LTE-M as soon as possible.

Where available, for most current CDMA applications, LTE-M is the most viable choice. It prolongs battery operation in some low-data use applications by not being active 24/7. Rather, it just needs a shoulder tap to become active if there is data to send or receive. In addition, some LTE-M devices will have VoLTE (voice), but not all.

To successfully make this inevitable shift, businesses with IoT devices and applications need to determine which factors should dictate moving from 2G / 3G to LTE or LTE-M and have a clear path, as well as a great technology partner, to minimize potential pain points.

As better, less expensive protocols are introduced, others will be sidelined. Here are some examples:

U.S. Shutdown Dates


AT&T announced it would sunset its 2G network. The phase-out was finalized in January of 2017.


Verizon will sunset all CDMA devices.


T-Mobile likely will sunset all 2G and 3G devices (though they have made contradictory statements about this).


We speculate 3G won’t be sunset until 2021 or later. At any rate, we recommend you look at the details of when you’re guaranteed service will end with your network provider.


Global 2G Sunset Timelines




AT2G no longer supported between 2011 to 2018


2G no longer supported since 2017
3G no longer supported by 2018

Latin America

2G/2G CDMA supported past 2020 but no further than 2025


2G GSM supported until 2025 or until 4G LTX is deployed


2: Module/Radio Costs

An IoT module, or radio, basically is a small electronic device embedded into, or connected to, machines or things, and then connected to a wireless network so it can send and receive data.

Today, in North America, an LTE module, purchased in bulk, could run between $20-30 per unit. On the other side of the equation, an LPWA module, purchased in bulk, could lower the cost to about $10 per unit. For large enterprise deployments, with thousands of units deployed, this is significant. And as the technology matures even more, the price for IoT modules should fall even further, to between $5 and $10 per unit. This price drop should be mirrored on a global scale. Types of modules include:

  • LTE Modules: Full voice, ability to support mobile applications, and standard cellular connectivity.
  • LTE-M IoT Modules: Some, but restricted, voice capabilities, limited ability to support mobility, enhanced coverage indoors and underground, and improved power efficiency enabling a battery life of up to 10 years.
  • NB-IoT IoT Modules: These modules are designed for stationary IoT solutions, such as water and electricity meters. They provide extended coverage indoors and underground and enables battery life of 10 years and beyond. No voice or mobility support.
  • Low Cost Modules: Up to 50% reduction in module costs over comparable IoT devices.


A global security client was using CDMA and had to transition out of that as it was nearing its final days. LTE was used initially as a replacement, but with hundreds of thousands of devices engaged, the cost of the modules was far too excessive. Transitioning to LTE-M helped solve this issue by bringing overall costs down dramatically.


3: Battery Costs

With earlier versions of connectivity technologies, the concept was to employ an “always on” methodology. This created a situation where the IoT device was constantly listening for messages, for new information. This “always on” condition meant that batteries were engaged all the time, radically lowering their life span.

With an LPWA network, sensors go to sleep (power saving mode) and only wake up when they need to send data packets. This periodic on /off allows batteries to last much longer, up to 10 years, depending on the technology.

Access to optimal coverage (multiple networks, no steering) minimizes battery drain, as does leveraging network location (coarse location via tower signal) rather than using always-on GPS-based location functionality.

Battery Sleep Mode

Devices can enter a “deep sleep” mode, called Power Savings Mode (PSM), and wake up only periodically while connected. That mode is called extended discontinuous reception (eDRX) and it enables mobiles and devices to reduce power consumption by extending the period of time they remain “asleep” (thereby avoiding power consumption from being active 24/7). This is particularly important within IoT networks in order to extend battery life.

Why Change to LTE-M?

Built for IoT devices, LTE-M is a licensed, low-power wide-area (LPWA) network that enhances indoor and subterranean coverage, extends battery life, has lower cost modules with lower bandwidth requirements, provides carrier-grade security, with low data needs, and low-cost modules.

LTE-M is a bi-directional, standards-based protocol within the same spectrum as LTE. It does not need new infrastructure as it can piggyback on existing LTE networks. As such, a carrier can update software on its network, get LTE-M functional, and not spend any additional funds on infrastructure or support services.

LTE-M, however, is a much simpler product than standard LTE, only using 1.4 MHz channels instead of varying bandwidths up to 20 MHz that LTE uses. While still lower than LTE, data rates for LTE-M are somewhat higher than NB-IoT, but it can transmit larger blocks of data due to the higher throughput.

Using an extended discontinuous repletion cycle (eDRX), the data collection devices can transmit data on a non-continuous schedule, as set by the end user. The device, when not sending data is not off, but just asleep. When data is scheduled to be sent, the device does not need to be re-activated to join the network, it just wakes up. Having intermittent data send-schedules, which are not active 24x7, can save battery life, leading to significant cost savings.


LTE-M: The Right Choice for Business

So, for the many companies wanting, or needing, to transition away from their present connectivity protocols, LTE-M is today’s standard, meeting security and power conservation levels suited for global deployments in multiple business sectors. With low-cost modules, extended battery life, better signal penetration, carrier-grade security, and the ability to use existing infrastructure, LTE-M has the potential to improve all IoT business models.



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