By Andrew Colla, Business Unit Manager IoT
In today’s rapidly changing IoT landscape, it is easy to lose sight of the maturity of some of the infrastructure that our communication industry has established. This region has enjoyed a 2G network for over a quarter of a century, and more recently, we are still very reliant on a 3G network that was first deployed 20 years ago. So, and while our 5G networks are now launching nearly 8 years after the first roll-out of 4G, what do we need to be mindful of when considering an IoT connection today to be assured of cloud connectivity well into the future?
I encounter many questions as part of the investigation phase of an IoT project, particularly around the technology to employ to assure connectivity well into the future.
· Should I make provision for fallback to 3G?
· Does our LTE network reach deep enough into our population?
· Are the Cat-M1 & NB-IoT networks in this region mature enough to connect to?
· Should I be planning to use 5G?
One thing is for certain, all these questions are valid, and there is no single right answer. However, there are some important factors that can help to determine what is the best solution for your product.
Should I make provision for fallback to 3G?
After nearly 20 productive years, many 3G networks in this region are approaching their sunset periods. Some carriers are putting very finite lifetimes on their 3G networks, notably Telstra has indicated partial geographic closures commencing any time after 2020, with a commitment that it will be decommissioned by June 2024. With the maturing of the LTE networks in this region, the risk associated with deploying an LTE module that does not have a 3G fallback option is now very low. Aside from attempting to connect in a few isolated pockets that are operating a 3G only network, selecting a module that does not have 3G fallback is an acceptable decision today.
Does our LTE network reach deep enough into our population?
In line with the point shared above, the LTE networks in this region have reached a level of maturity where most carriers have deployed 4G assets that exceed their 3G counterparts, and as a result have deeper population reach. When combining this fact with the improved coupling loss associated with deploying a product using a Cat-M1 or NB-IoT solution, this reach is improved much further. It also means that an IoT node can be installed in the basement of a building or deep within factories, buildings & car-parks and still establish a reliable connection.
Are the Cat-M1 & NB-IoT networks in this region mature enough to connect to?
Attempting to establish a reliable connection to an immature network poses many risks, and it is this risk that we are attempting to avert. As we approach the fourth year of active Cat-M1 & NB-IoT networks in this region, many companies in this region have commercially deployed assets that are 100% reliant on them. Acknowledging the endurance & durability of the predecessor 2G & 3G networks, more users are adopting this connection methodology daily, confidence that their asset will be reachable for many years to come.
Should I be planning to use 5G?
From inception, Cat-M1 & NB-IoT are viewed as 5G technologies. They can coexist in (and will share) spectrum used by 5G NR (New Radio) and will augment the 5G objective of massive MTC (Machine Type Communications) requirements effectively. In the context of this document, selecting a Cat-M1 or NB-IoT connection methodology will futureproof your design and mitigate the connectivity risk associated with the long-term deployment of IoT assets.
There are many factors that need to (and should) be carefully evaluated prior to deciding which connection methodology you choose, and these questions form just a small part of the decision-making process. The outcome of these questions however, should help to rationalize & compartmentalize very broadly the type of cellular module you should be selecting today to assure the long term viability of your IoT product.