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  • Writer's pictureElisabeth Nebster

Cellular Technologies: LTE-M and NB-IoT Comparison

In this Article:

LTE-M and NB-IoT: Differences Explained


IoT Analytics predicted that by 2025 we should expect over 27 billion connected IoT devices worldwide. It looks impressive, considering they all should work together smoothly, securely transfer data, and consume less energy (which is impossible at first sight).

Meanwhile, the business found the answer by applying two low-power wide-area network (LPWAN) technologies: LTE-M (Long Term Evolution for Machines) and NB-IoT (NarrowBand-Internet of Things). They can’t boast of super-high speed and broad functionality. Businesses use them for their ability to perform daily routine processes efficiently and uninterruptedly.

Here we’ll show you how your company can benefit from LTE-M and NB-IoT and which is better for your industry and conditions.

What are LTE-M and NB-IoT About?

General overview

Since LTE-M and NB-IoT belong to modern LPWAN ways of connectivity, they have core features, usual for this group, such as the provision of long-range communications with a low speed, narrow usage, and relatively low power. Consequently, both LTE-M and NB-IoT provide apparent benefits for their users:

  • cut costs

  • lower energy consumption (read “sustainability compliance”)

  • deep penetration (they are slow but efficient)

Despite a common nature and business benefits, we’re still discussing two technologies used for different purposes.

What does it mean in plain language?

Case 1. Imagine that you need to connect dozens of devices in your smart home. What goals should you achieve here? Low energy consumption, stable operation, and smooth connectivity. The speed of data transfer is the second-rate option.

Case 2. You’re a manager of logistics in a supply chain company. You decided to implement IoT and install tracking devices in your vehicles to boost current supply chain procedures. What about the goals in this case? Of course, real-time monitoring and uninterrupted operation.

Both situations illustrate the desire to apply IoT devices. Still, the purposes make businesses choose between the above cellular technologies to achieve relevant results: fewer operation costs or real-time tracking.

What method is applicable in the first case and the second one? This is what we’re going to discover below.

LTE-M: Long-Term Evolution for Machines

LTE-M Architecture

The increased demand for wireless communication at a high-security level was the driver of LTE-M or Long-Term Evolution for Machines creation. The case is some devices don’t require sky-high 5G or 6G speed which means that an alternative is needed. So, LTE-M became this alternative. This cellular technology helps simple devices transfer a limited amount of data over long distances and periods. The low volume of information allows businesses to gain:

  • low latency

  • better indoor coverage

  • extended battery life

Meanwhile, don’t think that this technology operates like a snail. It provides a latency from 10ms to 4s, faster than NB-IoT, which offers higher latency - from 1.4s to 10s. With the ability to transfer data quicker and still consume less, this technology became extremely popular among companies implementing asset tracking devices, smart city controllers, IIoT sensors, alarm devices, etc.

According to the Industry ARC report, the global LTE-M devices market will reach $6.2 billion by 2026, which is an excellent result for young technology.

NB-IoT: NarrowBand-Internet of Thing

NB-IoT: NarrowBand-Internet of Thing

As you discovered, NB-IoT is a slower technology that helps connect devices with low ​​bandwidth to transfer small amounts of data when working for a long time. This peculiarity makes it suitable for IoT devices with a more stable operation, like light controllers in the above smart home. To sum up the NB-IoT functionality, it:

  • provides meager data rates

  • works for low energy consumption

  • usually used for stationary assets

  • is reliable in areas with weak coverage

Meanwhile, these conclusions shouldn’t make you think that (a) it applies only to static devices, (b) less popular and demanded than LTE-M. This technology is also used for real-time purposes by supporting trackers and supply chain devices. The case is this phenomenon is rare rather than usual. Regarding popularity, LTE-M is actively used by giants in the telecom area, such as Vodafone. For instance, in 2021, the company doubled sites in its NB-IoT network to satisfy the demand for IoT services. It helped Vodafone cover 98% of the UK.

What Industries Uses LTE-M and NB-IoT

What Industries Uses LTE-M and NB-IoT

LTE-M vs. NB-IoT: What’s Better?

As seen, it would be wrong to say that LTE-M is better than NB-IoT and in reverse. Both technologies have significant pros. For LTE-M, these are the ability to work in dynamic conditions and transfer data with low latency. For NB-IoT, these are smooth static operations, work in challenging coverage conditions, and lower energy consumption. Both technologies can be applied in smart building and utility management. But it would be better to choose the technology that suits you better because of its relevant functionality.

In any case, it’s not so hard to choose between them comparatively with the IoT platform building that requires effort and solid investment. Fortunately, you can focus on business logic and customization instead of development from scratch with the code platform. Contact our sales team to explore how the fast-code platform can help you speed up Time-to-Market and cut development costs.


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