LTE-M supports a wide range of use cases related to the IoT, by providing extended coverage and connectivity compared to historical cellular technology.
A simple, concise description of LTE-M might be “Long Term Evolution for Machines”, as LTE is the next generation of 4G technology. It is a familiar principle: with the spread of the Internet of Things and M2M, machines are able to send information and data and communicate amongst themselves. LTE-M is particularly well suited to increasing the variety and volume of these objects: it is a versatile technology that is capable of connecting a wide range of devices designed for many different purposes – from smart electricity meters or automatic vending machines to fleets of vehicles, GPS beacons and e-health devices.
An ecosystem under construction
LTE-M is still only just getting started, although across the world, some operators are already making good progress: in the United States, for example, AT&T and Verizon launched their nationwide network as early as 2017. In Europe, Orange has prioritised the roll-out of LTE-M within its markets, and its series of field tests has been ongoing for several months now. At the end of 2017, Orange Belgium even announced that Mobile IoT technology, including LTE-M, was available throughout Belgium.
Collaborative innovation is currently taking place, in order to come up with applications and solutions that are tailored to business needs, and ecosystems are being built around the key links in the “LTE-M chain”, between operators and the manufacturers of both the connected objects themselves and the electronic components embedded within them. “It is now a question of bringing these actors together to work on joint initiatives and partnerships to invent the future of LTE-M,” explains Luc Savage, Vice-President Enterprise IoT, within Orange’s Innovation, Marketing and Technology Division. In this regard, the Group is offering the manufacturers of connected objects and modules an LTE-M environment, as part of its Open IoT Lab. “And this co-innovation approach needs to go so far as to involve future users and, those primarily affected, businesses, so that they can test solutions and share feedback in order for solutions to be adjusted to match their operational reality and production chains as closely as possible.” Things are definitely on the move and the outlook is promising.
An improved, “green” IoT
But exactly what operational benefits does LTE-M technology offer?
One benefit is the economy of scale involved in rolling out LTE-M, as all it needs is a simple update of the existing 4G infrastructure. Secondly and most importantly, it means further progress can be made in IoT applications for the business world, based on Low-Power, Wide-Area Network (LPWAN) technology, and all of this is geared towards mobility. Thanks to LTE-M’s performance in terms of coverage and energy consumption, businesses will be able to connect objects they would have not have been able to connect with existing technologies.
“Better and more widespread coverage means, in particular, that we can guarantee increased penetration and availability inside buildings,” says Simon Glassman, Head of Strategic Partnerships at u-blox. This international company based in Switzerland designs wireless modules and chips and, together with Orange and connected objects manufacturer Ercogener, has helped to develop the first LTE-M object dedicated to business – a tracking device suitable for industry 4.0 uses. “And solutions are less power-hungry and have a life expectancy of between 5 and 10 years, paving the way for use even in remote areas, with limited or practically non-existent maintenance requirements. And with the significant benefit of being able to support Voice applications if required.” The object that resulted from the partnership between u-blox, Ercogener and Orange is an LTE-M modem that is waterproof and robust, making it possible to guarantee the smart tracking of different kinds of goods – pallets, containers, etc. – in all circumstances, in remote environments, both when they are being transported and in any location and at any time. Finally, it can be linked with external sensors if the user wishes to record any other data, for example the vibrations to which an engine is exposed.
As Simon Glassman sums up, the IoT in LTE-M mode is “a gateway to a whole new world of opportunities, and the ability to connect a large number of devices, so that they perform effectively and at a lower cost.” A gateway to a world that is even smarter, in other words…