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Is LTE Cat 1bis Uniting the Fragmented Cellular IoT Market?

There are just too many options when it comes to IoT. LoRaWAN is probably the winner from the unlicensed camp with plethora of other options also available. On the licensed front while LTE-M and NB-IoT haven't enjoyed the success they were touted to, other cIoT options aren't doing that badly.

In their recently released whitepaper entitled, 'Understanding the benefits of LTE Cat 1bis technology', Qualcomm explains:

LTE-M and NB-IoT are two IoT-specific standards introduced in 3GPP release 13. They provide low power operation, extended coverage range and low data rate; they are aptly called low-power wide area networking, or LPWAN technologies. In Release 13, LTE Cat 1bis was also added to the standards. Cat 1bis requires one receive- (Rx) antenna, making it easier and cheaper to build devices in smaller form factors. Recently, IoT use cases involving drones and industrial automation have evolved, requiring either higher throughput, lower latency or both. 5G or higher-category LTE devices (LTE Cat 16) are suitable for such use cases.

Rel-17 introduces the RedCap (also known as NR-Light) – reduced capability – modem. RedCap is the 5G equivalent of the LTE Cat 4 modem, allowing data rates of approximately 200 Mbps using sub-6GHz spectrum. Rel-18 takes that a step further and brings in support for IoT-centric eRedCap (enhanced RedCap) modems offering data rates from 10 to 15 Mbps, the 5G equivalent of LTE Cat 1bis.

Cat 1bis and eRedCap are complementary technologies, with eRedCap providing an evolution path to Cat 1bis.

There is still quite limited availability of LTE-M and NB-IoT networks. This has definitely encouraged smaller operators to stick with LTE Cat1 and now Cat 1bis for offering IoT services. With the evolution path of moving on to eRedCap, it will just make the case for Cat 1bis stronger.

Some additional info from Qualcomm on this topic:

eMTC technologies like LTE Cat NB2 (NB-IoT) and LTE-M require operators to upgrade software on their networks — a big speed bump on the road to adoption. LTE Cat 1bis devices, on the other hand, operate on the same LTE network on which our cell phones run. No network upgrade is necessary.

The LTE network treats a Cat 1bis device as it does a Cat 1 device, with one important difference: Cat 1bis requires a single receive- (Rx) antenna instead of the two antennas used in Cat 1.

And unlike eMTC, there is no need to reserve network capacity for coexistence with LTE. Cat 1bis devices do not need dedicated bandwidth; they coexist with regular LTE Cat 1 devices, Cat 4 devices and smartphones on the same network and spectrum.

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