May 27, 2021

The Advantages of Cellular IoT

The advantages of cellular IoT go beyond global availability, to security, reliability, and low power consumption.

Rob Lauer, Developer Relations Lead

IoT developers and the businesses that support them have a vested interest in using the best network connectivity option available (both from the developer experience and expense angles). For many, Wi-Fi is an obvious choice when high bandwidth is a requirement. While for others building stationary solutions with easy access to wired Ethernet, that connection method is equally a given.

The rest of us, though, may be actively implementing IoT solutions that:

  • are in-motion or occasionally mobile,
  • are deployed globally,
  • require a redundant offsite network gateway,
  • or need a reliable and secure connection.

Building on top of decades of global infrastructure, cellular should be a top consideration when it comes to picking the best IoT network connectivity option.

person holding onto cell tower

Image credit @jacksloop on Unsplash.

In this blog series we are demystifying cellular and taking a critical look at four key topics related to wireless in the Internet of Things:

Cellular IoT Benefits

The advantages of utilizing cellular connectivity with the Internet of Things are extensive:

  • Coverage: Cellular networks are ubiquitous, mature, and reliable.
  • Global Reach: There is no other network technology with the reach of cellular.
  • Security: SIM-based authentication and utilization of VPN tunnels makes cellular the most secure option.
  • Installation: Works out-of-the-box without requiring local installation or technical expertise.
  • Low/No power: Cellular modules can consume ~8mA of power and networks are still available in the case of a power outage.

When it comes to security, coverage, and usability, it’s hard to compete with cellular.

Let’s dive into some of these benefits:

Global Cellular Coverage

For global IoT deployments, cellular connectivity is widely considered the most logical and reliable connection option. There is no need to build new infrastructure nor add additional network gateways to support remote deployments. You’re simply connecting to the cell towers that are already in place.

Cellular roaming is another consideration. Are you providing a solution that may either be deployed to an unknown spot in the world or move between regions? As cellular IoT projects move from location to location, your cellular provider must have agreements with partner carriers to facilitate seamless connectivity across regions without having to change SIMs.

Example: The Notecard from Blues Wireless connects to 135 (and counting) countries globally on LTE-M, NB-IoT, and Cat-1 networks. Where these standards are not available, coverage is supplemented by UMTS/HSPA+ and GSM/GPRS/EDGE.

Cellular Security

Since cellular networks use SIM cards for authentication, it’s exceedingly difficult to spoof the identity of a device. In the case of the Notecard, the embedded SIM is pre-provisioned to securely communicate with the Blues Wireless cloud service Notehub.io. In addition, the Notecard includes an integrated STSAFE Secure Element with hardware crypto, a hardware random number generator, and a factory-installed ECC P-384 certificate (provisioned at the time of chip manufacturing).

Compare this to Wi-Fi: When connected to a public Wi-Fi network, devices are sharing the connection with all other devices on the network. If any individual device has a security concern, all devices are at-risk. Cellular keeps every device separate from every other device, ensuring the security of the data being transmitted.

Cellular Reliability

Due to the importance of cellular connections today, cellular IoT protocols can take advantage of existing performance characteristics. Cellular operates in licensed bands, which dictate the performance and reliability of communication. Cellular also provides for a known number of connections per tower, which are actively managed behind the scenes, thus providing guarantees on service and reliability.

Low Power Consumption

Historically, a significant limitation for cellular adoption has been power consumption and battery life (or lack thereof!). Modern cellular protocols make it possible for cellular IoT modules to not only save power when not in use, but to also transmit relatively small amounts of data with minimal power usage.

Both LTE-M and NB-IoT are designed to offer years of operation from a battery-driven power source. Since data throughput is limited (but often more than enough for relaying sensor data), simpler signal modulation schemes and less complex radio modems are needed, leading to diminished power requirements. Advances in wake/sleep modes on modern hardware only contribute to these benefits.

Case in point, the Notecard was designed from day one to focus on low-power scenarios. The Notecard operates well on battery power, while being “always-on”, maintaining time & location, and typically drawing less than 8µA when idle.

Summary

The advantages of cellular IoT are clear. Unmatched global coverage, embedded device security, “it just works” installation, and exceedingly low power requirements make it an obvious choice for the IoT.

Learn more about how Blues Wireless is making cellular IoT adoption easier for businesses AND developers with the Notecard and Notecarrier (and read the next post in this series on Common Use Cases for Cellular IoT).

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