What is 4G?
4G refers to the fourth generation of mobile telecommunications technology. In its early days, it consisted of two main technology branches: WiMax (Worldwide Interoperability for Microwave Access), and LTE (Long-Term Evolution). In turn, LTE has opened the door to LTE-M, a type of low power, wide-area network (LPWAN) solution that has proved particularly effective for business applications, including IoT projects.
Here’s a closer look at this generation of cellular networks and how they can benefit your business.
The history of 4G
From the early 2000s onwards, mobile carriers were starting to use the label ‘4G’ to describe a number of technologies and services. The industry needed clarity on what it meant.
In 2008, the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) set out its standards for 4G connectivity, which all services had to meet if they were going to describe themselves as 4G. For mobile, this meant that connection speeds needed to have a peak of at least 100 megabits per second, and for stationary uses, at least 1 gigabit per second. Back in 2008, these speeds were not yet practically achievable; they were intended more as a target for developers to aim for.
At that time, a technology called WiMax was a real contender to become the dominant 4G connectivity solution. Sometimes dubbed “Wi-Fi on steroids”, WiMax operated on the same principles as very long-range Wi-Fi, with the potential to replace both traditional landlines and mobile internet.
For various practical and costs reasons however, most carriers decided not to invest in whole new WiMax networks. Instead, they opted to adopt LTE, which essentially involved an upgrade to existing network technology, rather than whole new infrastructure.
The first iteration of LTE was not created with IoT usage in mind. Power consumption was around 50% greater than 3G technologies. It also uses many more frequency bands than 3G and 2G, which may mean you need multiple modems to deploy it globally.
However, over the last few years, LTE has given rise to an evolved technology, LTE-M (Long-Term Evolution for Machines), that is ideal for many industrial, commercial and consumer-focused IoT projects.
What’s different about 4G?
4G, and particularly the IoT-focused variant known as LTE-M offers the following:
LTE-M offers typical uplink and downlink speeds of 375kbps, with the potential to reach up to 1Mbps. Latency is lower than 100ms (low latency is especially desirable in areas controlling a device remotely, to avoid devices operating out of sync). Compared to 2G and 3G technologies, LTE-M also tends to be better at hand-over (switching a device between antennae), which is useful in uses such as fleet tracking.
Power saving mode is incredibly useful where devices do not need to be contactable between sending messages. You can configure your devices to go into hibernation, but they are still able to keep the network updated with status updates.
LTE-M’s radio protocol known as MAT m-1 offers penetration not just into buildings, but also into underground and semi-underground locations.
How is 4G used in IoT?
The standard 4G protocol (LTE) offers a useful connectivity option when you need high data throughput. Prime examples include security systems that incorporate video transmission, and visual diagnostics.
However, for more standard, less data-hungry IoT use cases, LTE’s business-focused variant (LTE-M) is usually a more appropriate option. Not least, the ability to extend battery life by going into hibernation mode is ideal for machines in difficult-to-access locations where high call-out costs apply.
High speed and low latency often makes LTE-M a good option for emergency equipment (e.g. lifts and remote assistance equipment).
Offering impressive performance, coverage, low maintenance and value for money, the 4G network, and specifically, LTE-M is often a very good fit for IoT. For further information, explore our connectivity solutions.