Selecting the Ideal Cellular IoT Network

2G, 3G, 4G, NB-IoT, LTE-M? What door to choose? Source: Arek Socha, Pixabay

When using 1NCE as your mobile IoT connectivity provider you have one less worry about what cellular IoT network standard to use. The 1NCE Flexi SIM card as well as the eSIM for direct onboard use are multimode compatible and support any standard from 2G, 3G, 4G, NB-IoT, LTE-M, and are even 5G ready. Concerning your IoT connectivity operator you are future-proof with 1NCE. That leaves you with the choice of an adequate SIM module for ideal cellular IoT network connectivity.

However, you still need to decide how to configure your devices. With the third part of our three-part blog series about IoT connectivity and the choice of standards, we want to support you in selecting the ideal cellular IoT network for your individual use case.

What Is the Ideal Cellular IoT Network Standard?

When reading our customer references,  you will find that depending on their use case, our customers use different IoT cellular network standards for their individual IoT solutions. Choosing the fitting standard for your solution depends on various variables. Let’s highlight three of them:

  • Place of operation. Not only does the country itself and the availability of IoT cellular network standards play a huge role in the choice of the standard but also knowing the exact field of application of the IoT device itself. Surface use makes it easier to work with various standards. Placed in a basement surrounded by concrete probably asks for technology with higher penetration capabilities.

  • Mobile or stationary use. Moving IoT devices such as localization devices for asset tracking functionality will switch from one network cell to another. This might have an impact on the connectivity as well as power consumption during the handover from one cell to another. Plus: If the device will be on the move internationally, questions of network availability and roaming must be answered.

  • Power supply. The durability of an IoT device is a crucial matter when it comes to independent solutions where no external power source is available. So is the choice of the cellular radio standard. While 2G, 3G, or 4G might provide a maximum battery lifetime of up to 3 years, NB-IoT or LTE-M can make your device's energy last twice or triple that time.

Multimode Compatibility: One SIM to Serve Them All

As already mentioned, the 1NCE Flexi SIM and eSIM are multimode compatible. This means that they can establish communication over all cellular IoT networks available. Regardless of the wireless network in use, with 1NCE data is always sent with a maximum bandwidth of up to 128 kbps ( up to 1 Mbit/s with 4G and LTE-M ). While it might sound slow for the average internet user, it is a perfect bandwidth for the use of IoT devices that only need to send sensor data at the size of usually just a few kilobits. To make use of more than only one IoT cellular network, the IoT device needs to be equipped with a suitable module that supports multiple standards. Where multimode compatibility over all networks is not desired, may it be for reasons of costs, battery lifetime, or other, the selection of a fitting SIM module is important.

SIM Module Selection for Ideal IoT Connectivity

As we have learned in the previous part of our three-part blog series about IoT connectivity standards, 2G and 3G are outdated standards that already are being shut down in various countries. If you design a new IoT device now, make sure to choose the technology that keeps your devices running over the next years.
While the most convenient solution is to select a SIM module for your device that supports any or most of the aforementioned standards, you might have reasons to choose a more specific module. However, choosing modules that only support 2G and 3G standards does not make much sense anymore. So what is left?

NB-IoT: Pros and Cons

NB-IoT is the cellular mobile standard specially designed for the Internet of Things. While its comprehensive availability on a worldwide scale is still in its infancy, it brings some advantages compared to the “classic” 4G in terms of device connectivity.

  • Ideal for battery-powered devices If your IoT solution heavily relies on battery power, you might want to go for NB-IoT. Typical use cases are asset tracking devices or devices that are being installed in places where you need reliable signal penetration, e.g. smart meter solutions that are usually installed deep within buildings.

  • Cost efficient Modules for NB-IoT connectivity are cheap and are often offered for as low as 10 euros already equipped with various sensors. It is very likely that the price will go down even further in the future.

  • High network capacity With NB-IoT it is possible to connect a huge amount of devices just via one network cell tower. More than 100k is not a problem. That makes NB-IoT ideal for use in areas with already high network usage.

  • No seamless cell handover with NB-IoT For whatever application you plan to use NB-IoT keep in mind, that it does not support seamless handover when switching to another cell network tower. So, the ideal use case for NB-IoT devices would be stationary. However, it is possible to use NB-IoT also on moving objects, only that after each cell switch, the connection must be re-established. That will of course influence the battery lifetime.

4G with Fallback for Best Network Coverage

Since backward compatibility to 2G and 3G is given, a 4G module comes in handy for optimal network coverage. Even though it has a reduced battery lifetime compared to NB-IoT this high-speed network is also suitable to be used for low-power applications. You might not reach 5 or even 10 years of battery lifetime as with NB-IoT but should be able to be good for up to 3 years. And if your device is being placed in a region where no 4G is available, the chances are high, that 3G or even 2G are still covered.

One Product, One price, All Countries

The 1NCE offering aims for maximum transparency and simplicity: one product, one price. Why do we do that? We want to ensure maximum usability and flexibility for your product worldwide. A business case that scales and comes with the necessary planning reliability. While 2G, 3G, or 4G connectivity is already supported by us in over 100 countries worldwide, we support NB-IoT currently in Germany, Austria, and very soon China. We’re negotiating hard to bring you more coverage as soon as possible. To get a detailed overview, check our coverage map to see what technology is currently available in which country.
As this three-part blog series about IoT connectivity and the choice of standard shows: the technologies in their details are complex enough. Selecting the ideal cellular IoT network comes with certain questions that want to be answered. Let’s make at least the connectivity offer as simple as possible.

IoT Connectivity and the Choice of Standards:

Choosing the Right IoT SIM Card for Your Connected Product