The 3GPP in its next two LTE releases will define Category 0 with throughput of 1 megabit per second for low cost/low power M2M applications, also referred to as LTE for machine-type-communications or LTE-M. Once the new specifications are ratified and published, there will follow extensive required network modifications and upgrades before Cat 0 devices can deploy, not expected until 2017 at the earliest. In the meantime, however, Category 1 technology, already part of the existing 3GPP LTE standards, is available today to meet the cost requirements of a wide range of M2M and IoT applications.
No need to wait for Cat 0
LTE category 1 was defined in the original 3GPP LTE specifications of 2008, along with categories 2, 3, and 4, but because operators and device makers were focused primarily on the needs of high-speed smartphones and category 3 and 4 technology, category 1 was overlooked. The rapid spread of LTE networks and the inevitable sunsetting of 2G and 3G networks, has completely changed the scene. It is now universally accepted that LTE will be used for nearly everything that requires a wireless connection, including M2M and IoT applications where it was once deemed too expensive and complex — Cat 1 LTE solutions shatter this perception and take on tremendous new importance.
Verizon Wireless, Ericsson, Sequans conduct Cat 1 device and network trial
Deploying Cat 1 today is relatively simple. A few networks are already configured to allow Cat 1 devices and more are expected to follow in the next few months. Now that Cat 1 LTE chipsets are available, we will see Cat 1 devices appearing in the second half of 2015 and ramping up steadily in 2016. Configuring existing networks to allow Cat 1 devices involves straightforward software configuration updates to existing network infrastructure, and industry leaders are moving quickly here. Verizon Wireless and infrastructure vendor Ericsson have already conducted a successful device and network trial of Cat 1 technology using a Sequans CAT1 solution, preparing the way for widespread Cat 1 device deployment.
Cat 0: Further LTE device optimizations and some heavy lifting for networks
LTE Cat 0, or LTE-M, is defined in 3GPP Release 12, published Q2 2015, and further enhanced in Release 13, expected to publish in mid 2016. Release 12 defines maximum throughput of 1 Mbps and optional half-duplex operation, providing improvements in cost and power consumption over Cat 1. Release 13 is expected to add support for 1.4 MHz bandwidths, coverage enhancement techniques and reduced transmit power. Implementing these major Cat 0 specifications in networks will require disruptive RAN and core infrastructure software upgrades by network operators, involving time and expense that likely means that the first networks to support Cat 0 devices may not be ready for mass deployment until 2017, and probably not until 2018 for Release 13 features.
Cat 1 technology makes LTE viable now for M2M and IoT apps
Cat 1 LTE chipsets and modules are much lower in cost than their Cat 4 counterparts due to significantly reduced complexity in both baseband and RF. Moving from Cat 4 at 150 Mbps to Cat 1 at 10 Mbps allows for great reductions in on-chip processing power, clock speeds and memory requirements. This in turn reduces baseband die size, power consumption, and cost. For RF in M2M applications, reduced band support and a corresponding reduction in RFIC complexity, die size, and cost are possible. With these optimizations, Cat 1 LTE chipsets enable LTE module costs to drop below 3G module costs for the first time, opening the floodgates of development for a wide variety of successful M2M applications.
Although the coming Cat 0 technology will make LTE even more cost-effective than Cat 1 is today for come of the most price-sensitive M2M and IoT applications of the future, there are many applications where Cat 1 technology is entirely suitable and cost-effective right now, enabling highly profitable M2M and IoT businesses to flourish.