If you ever use your smartphone to map out a driving route, you have probably run into a situation where the app suggests a route that makes absolutely no sense whatsoever. Here is a perfect example: the navigation app on one of our phones suggested a circuitous route through unpaved forestry roads that are likely still blocked by winter snow—a route that would have added hours to a simple road trip from a suburb to the Benihana restaurant downtown, just a few miles away. That was not exactly the fastest route.

What does that have to do with a topic like cellular IoT? There are always multiple routes from point A to point B, but some often make much more sense than others. Designing cellular LTE technology is complex and that means there are many potentially arduous routes you could take to complete your design project. Some of those routes might just add time and cost, like all unnecessary detours. Or worse, some might mean you never arrive successfully at your destination.

The goal of this white paper is to help product engineers map out a more direct path to designing low-power cellular LTE connectivity into their products; ideally product engineers/ developers who do not live and breathe cellular design but will soon be tasked with IoT design projects that require an understanding of how to use the new low-power cellular protocols LTE CAT M1 (aka CAT M1) and NB-IoT in conjunction with more familiar technologies like Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE). Engineers in this space have already had to learn the complexities of working with other technologies like ZigBee, Wi-Fi, and LoRA for prior IoT projects, but cellular has an even steeper learning curve. This white paper is written to provide those engineers with a route that simplifies the process of completing IoT projects with these new cellular protocols, without the metaphorical detours and dead ends that we discussed above. Designing low power, connected features into a product is challenging with any wireless technology, but it is particularly challenging with cellular LTE technology, so it is important to avoid making it even harder by taking the long way around.

Designing for Cellular IoT is Challenging

Cellular has significant advantages for many IoT applications, but the complexity of working with it has caused a slow start for adoption. Nordic Semiconductor recently reported that “the adoption of cellular internet-of-things (IoT) technologies is not being slowed by the high price of chipsets, but by the complexity of their design.” The complexity of designing with cellular technology is amplified in an IoT environment because of how difficult it is to plan and execute successful IoT products and implementations. IoTforAll.com captures that idea in a piece with the apt wording “…IoT Is Hard” in the title: “…the software necessary to reach from the sensors to enterprise is the integration glue and requires deep connected systems experience (skills sets intimate with embedded systems, connectivity, and real-time, time series based systems) to develop industrial grade, end-to-end systems.” Even a highly-skilled engineer with experience working with other wireless technologies may be intimidated by the degree of difficulty of IoT projects involving cellular.

Those combined factors cause adoption among product companies to be slow and cautious. That slow start mirrors the cautious pace of the largest network providers, who are quite deliberate in welcoming new technology standards, to ensure that new technologies connecting to their networks have the robustness, reliability, and performance to play well in the sandbox. But we believe that adoption of NB-IoT and CAT M1 is poised to accelerate in the coming months. 

This will change because the advantage of LTE-M and NB-IoT’s remarkable battery life, cost-effective data usage, and ubiquitous cell infrastructure will be embraced by an increasing number of manufacturers as the ideal protocol for many of the IoT initiatives in the pipeline. And it will change because enough pilot projects have been conducted to reassure network providers that the two cellular IoT technologies work well at scale with their networks. 

Industry analysts see the market the same way, predicting very robust growth that will fill engineers’ project pipelines with cellular IoT design tasks. Their projections are staggering, with industry experts “projecting the number of cellular-connected devices to grow to 1.8 billion by 2023,” with IoT serving as a major driver of that growth. Based on research we have reviewed and conducted, we project tenfold growth in the number of NB-IoT and CAT M1 devices over the next four years, increasing to more than 280 million annually in that timeframe. A guest column in Medium.com makes the point as clearly as any commentary we have seen: “cellular is the key to unlocking the massive, positive, potential of the Internet of Things.” 

With that many projects on the horizon involving cellular IoT, engineers cannot afford to take a circuitous route to finish those projects. Understanding and streamlining this design process is going to be critical to keeping up with the growing market demand for low power, wirelessly-connected devices with ability to connect to the global LTE networks.

...Projections are staggering with industry experts “projecting the number of cellular-connected devices to grow to 1.8 billion by 2023,” with IoT serving as a major driver of that growth.

Download White Paper as a PDF