What Is 4G Technology and Its Relevance to the Internet of Things?

4G technology is the 4th generation of cellular networks that offers faster data rates, lower latency, and more effective use of the adio frequencies. There are two major branches of 4G - LTE (Long Term Evolution) and WiMax. 

What Are the Key Features of 4G? 

4G networks are based on the ITU standard called International Mobile Telecommunications-Advanced (IMT-Advanced). This standard specifies peak download speeds of up to 100 Mbps in fast-moving vehicles and up to 1 Gbps when users are stationary or walking, with peak upload speeds of up to 50 Mbps. These speeds are significantly faster than those offered by 3G networks.  4G networks were specifically designed to handle a larger volume of cellular devices and cater to data-intensive internet activities like high-definition video streaming. To achieve this, 4G incorporated telecommunications technologies not previously utilized in earlier generations. 

The Components of 4G Technology 

4G technology employs a combination of advanced features and protocols to facilitate efficient communication between IoT devices and the network infrastructure. Here's a brief overview of the key components and mechanisms involved: 

  • Radio Access Network (RAN): The Radio Access Network acts as the intermediary between IoT devices and the core network. It comprises base stations, antennas, and other equipment responsible for transmitting and receiving wireless signals.  

  • LTE (Long Term Evolution): LTE is the primary standard used in 4G networks, offering enhanced data rates, improved spectral efficiency, and reduced latency. IoT devices equipped with LTE capabilities can connect seamlessly to the LTE infrastructure, ensuring reliable and fast data transmission.  

Technical Specifications of 4G in IoT 

  • Peak Data Transfer Speeds. 4G networks, as per the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) standards, can deliver peak download speeds of up to 100 Mbps in fast-moving vehicles and 1 Gbps when users are stationary or walking. This enables efficient real-time data transmission in IoT scenarios.  

  • Latency Reduction. 4G significantly reduces latency compared to previous generations. With latencies as low as a few milliseconds, IoT devices can quickly exchange data with cloud platforms, enabling near-instantaneous response times for critical applications.  

  • Network Capacity. 4G networks offer improved network capacity, allowing for a larger number of connected devices per unit area. This scalability is crucial for IoT deployments, where a vast number of devices need to connect simultaneously.  

LTE-based Network Types in IoT 

  • LTE-M (Long Term Evolution for Machines). LTE-M is a variant of 4G designed specifically for IoT applications. It prioritizes power efficiency, extended battery life, and enhanced coverage, making it suitable for low-power IoT devices that require long-term operation without frequent recharging. 

  • LTE-Cat 1 (Category One). LTE-Cat 1 is another classification within 4G that balances data speed and power consumption. It offers higher data rates compared to LTE-M while still maintaining power efficiency. LTE-Cat 1 is suitable for IoT applications that demand moderate to high data throughput. LTE Cat-1 networks deliver high data transmission capabilities, including data streaming throughput of up to 10 Mbps. 

  • NB-IoT, or LTE Cat-NB, operates with typical download speeds of 0.07 Mbps and upload speeds of 0.03 Mbps. It exhibits a relatively higher latency rate of over 1.6 seconds, making it better suited for applications involving intermittent and small data transmissions where latency is not a critical factor. NB-IoT excels in connection density, offering long-range support and strong signal penetration, making it suitable for indoor usage and IoT projects spanning significant distances. Popular use cases for NB-IoT include smart utility meters, smart home technology, and industrial and agricultural monitoring systems.