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CAT-M Vs NB-IoT. Which technology solution is best for your IoT deployment?
Zakira PatelApril 7, 20233 min read

CAT-M vs. NB-IoT: Which IoT Technology Is Right for Your Business?

With the world becoming more connected through the Internet of Things (IoT), choosing the right connectivity for your IoT deployments is vital. There are a number of connectivity options for IoT. Two of the most common are CAT-M and NB-IoT. In this blog, we’ll take a look at the two technologies, their advantages/disadvantages, and where you can apply them in your business.


What are CAT-M and NB-IoT?

CAT-M and NB-IoT are both types of LPWA cellular technologies. LPWA stands for “Low-Power, Wide Area”, meaning these networks have wide coverage with small data transfers, making them perfect for IoT solutions. CAT-M and NB-IoT are two standards within the LPWAN segment, and both have a power-efficient network and power-saving mode (PSM) that puts devices into hibernation when they’re not active.


Cat-M, otherwise known as Category M, is one type of wireless technology that allows devices to connect to the Internet wirelessly. Because of its established network infrastructure, it’s one of the more accessible options for IoT. It also has a high data rate ceiling of 250Kbps.


NB-IoT, otherwise known as Narrowband IoT, is another wireless technology like Cat-M. While they’re very similar, one big difference between the two is NB-IoT uses narrower bands of frequencies for connection. Devices using this solution will use less power, and have a longer range. However, it has a smaller data rate of up to 1 Mbps.


Advantages of CAT-M:

Wide Coverage: It works over a wide area, covering large distances with strong signal strength. This makes it ideal for devices that need longer-range communication.

Higher Data Rates: Information is transmitted at faster speeds than NB-IoT, which is ideal for use cases that need higher data throughput.

Established Network Infrastructure: Existing LTE (4G) networks are used for this technology, which is already implemented in many areas. This allows it to “piggyback” off existing infrastructure, making it easily accessible.

Flexibility: It’s flexible and can support a number of IoT use cases, including industrial automation, remote monitoring, and smart cities.

Wider Bandwidth: Supports bandwidth of 1.4 MHz, meaning you can have lower latency and greater accuracy for GPS positioning.


Disadvantages of CAT-M:

Power Consumption: Compared to alternatives, CAT-M consumes more power, which limits its use in devices with power constraints, or those that operate on battery power.

Higher Cost: CAT-M is more expensive to implement, making them less suitable for cases with low budgets. This also impacts the cost of devices using this solution.


Advantages of NB-IoT:

Low Power Consumption: NB-IoT uses less power than alternatives. This makes it a better solution for devices needing a long battery life, like sensors or wearables.

Longer Range: It has a longer range making it perfect for devices that need to communicate over long distances. It’s also ideal for remote areas/areas lacking cellular coverage.

Low Cost: The technology is less expensive, making it more affordable for IoT deployments.

Indoor Coverage: NB-IoT has excellent indoor coverage and can penetrate deep into buildings and underground areas.


Disadvantages of NB-IoT:

Lower Data Rates: This technology has lower data throughput when compared to other solutions. For this reason, it’s less suitable for operations needing high-speed data transmission

Limited Network Availability: Networks for this technology are not widely available as LTE (4G), which impacts coverage in certain areas.


Applications of CAT-M


  • Asset Tracking: This solution can switch between cellular towers for continuous connectivity, making it a good option for asset tracking.
  • Fleet Management: Fleet tracking requires higher data rates and wider coverage. CAT-M is one of the best options for this.
  • Smart Agriculture: For monitoring weather conditions, soil moisture, and crop health across large fields, a solution with higher data rates and wider coverage is needed.
  • Wearables: Wearable devices, like smartwatches and fitness trackers, need high data rates in order to transmit health information, location info, etc.


Applications of NB-IoT


  • Smart Metering: Utility meters typically transmit small amounts of information at regular intervals. NB-IoT is the better solution in this case for its low power consumption and cost-effectiveness.
  • Smart Parking: For sensors that detect parking availability and transmit it to a central location, a low-power solution is needed to maintain battery life.

In general, CAT-M is better suited for use cases needing higher data rates and wider coverage while NB-IoT is better suited for use cases needing low power consumption, longer range, and low costs. 

When choosing between the two, make sure to consider the specific needs of your application and the available network infrastructure in the area.

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