FAQ: What You Need to Know about LTE Category 1

January 12, 2021

LTE Category (Cat) 1 offers lower complexity and greater efficiency for a variety of use cases, including fleet managementusage-based insurance (UBI), vending machines and voice-enabled health care IoT devices. It is available worldwide and allows for seamless global roaming.

Telit Cinterion’s Marco Stracuzzi and Joe Braga have provided answers to the top frequently asked questions about the standard: what it is, its benefits, use cases and applications, and how it can help your enterprise transition seamlessly to 5G.

Marco Stracuzzi, Head of Product Marketing, Telit Cinterion

Marco Stracuzzi

Head of Product Marketing, Telit Cinterion

Joe Braga, Head of Regional Marketing, Telit Cinterion

Joe Braga

Head of Regional Marketing, Telit Cinterion

1. What is Cat 1, and what does it mean for IoT deployments?

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Marco Stracuzzi: LTE utilizes User Equipment (UE) categories or classes to define the performance specifications. Specifically, the UE Category defines a combined uplink and downlink capability: the higher the UE Category, the higher device’s data throughput capability. Similarly, the lower the UE Category, the lower the device’s data throughput capability.

LTE Cat 1 standard was introduced in the 3GPP Release (Rel) 8 in 2008. It became the first Internet of Things (IoT) specific variant of LTE. It is a solid basis for more demanding IoT use cases in terms of data traffic and features.

LTE Cat 1 is currently seen as the first and, in some regions, still the only practical and commercial cellular IoT technology, which we expect to be in use in many IoT solutions for several years to come. LTE Cat 1 modems have been on the market for some time, making it a field-proven technology. 

Thanks to extended idle and sleep modes, LTE Cat 1 provides better power efficiency than regular LTE UE. It also has lower complexity, making it easier for massive IoT deployments.

According to the actual maximum data rates, LTE Cat 1 is capable of 10 and 5 Mbps for downlink and uplink, respectively. That makes LTE Cat 1 suitable for bandwidth-intensive IoT applications, especially if peak rates need to be on that level.

LTE Cat 1 offers lower latency (50 to 100 ms) compared to other LTE IoT standards (i.e., LTE Cat M1, also known as LTE-M) and NB1/NB2 (NB-IoT), whose latency is in the range of few seconds. It is a viable solution if data streaming is one of the requirements and if the possibility of Voice over LTE (VoLTE) for voice communications adds value to the end application.

LTE Cat 1 offers voice capabilities, making it a market-ready and versatile option, even if not fully optimized for broad IoT use cases. The higher data rates and dual antenna in LTE Cat 1 increase power consumption compared to other cellular IoT alternatives.

2. How can Cat 1 help businesses transition seamlessly to 5G?

Joe Braga: Cat 1 is an LTE standard that delivers a combination of mid-grade performance and integration complexity. It has found a “sweet spot” by adopters in some very representative industry verticals, particularly those in which mobility and voice are substantial requirements, such as fleet management and aftermarket telematics.

Because of the significant level of adoption, which is still growing, mobile operators will continue growing and grooming their Cat 1 networks with great care until the equivalent service in 5G New Radio (NR) picks up the evolution chain with the standard known as NR-Light. NR-Light is likely to start rolling out in select markets in 2022, and Cat 1 should easily enjoy at least a good decade of migration runway for its users.

3. What are the benefits of Cat 1?

Marco Stracuzzi: With new LTE IoT standards still in the process of commercial rollout in some regions of the world (i.e., LTE Cat M1 and NB1/NB2), LTE Cat 1 is the lowest-tier LTE category widely deployed across all the LTE networks worldwide, and that can ensure seamless roaming throughout all countries.

LTE Cat 1 is available and allows for global roaming and supports full mobility for IoT devices that need continuous connectivity when moving around, from people walking or jogging in a park to trucks traveling on the road.

Moreover, LTE Cat 1 supports a high data rate with several megabits per second in downlink and uplink, which is even suitable for video streaming.

LTE Cat 1 also supports voice over LTE (VoLTE) to offer conversational voice with quality of service. Finally, all these features are available on the latest generation of LTE Cat 1 modems at an affordable price for IoT developers.

From a mobile network operator (MNO) perspective, LTE Cat 1 completely reuses standard commercial networks for consumer LTE applications (i.e., mobile phones). It does not require any further investment on the network infrastructure side to support IoT use cases.

4. What are the disadvantages of Cat 1?

Joe Braga: Integration complexity and power consumption are the primary disadvantages. Since Cat 1 is a simplified form of LTE user equipment, it isn’t a good platform for many IoT applications, despite the additional simplification embraced by operators in many major markets supporting a variant of Cat 1 that operates on a single antenna. 

Also, being part of the regular LTE family, it consumes higher power than is typically acceptable for battery operations, such as can be done with LTE M1, NB1 and NB2, the standards known as cellular low-power wide-area (cellular LPWA).

5. What are the applications or use cases for Cat 1?

Marco Stracuzzi: LTE Cat 1 is the best fit for aftermarket telematics applications, like fleet management, UBI, stolen vehicle tracking and recovery (SVT/SVR), and car digital video recorders (DVR, also known as dash cameras), that require continuous data connectivity in mobility for in-vehicle telemetry, tracking and recording.

Mobile point of sale devices (POS), automated teller machines (ATM) and vending machines usually work in a static environment. They don’t need connectivity in mobility; however, they can still benefit from the widespread availability of LTE Cat 1 across all cellular networks worldwide and from its low latency capability to exchange data with payment systems to validate ATM or credit card information promptly.

IoT devices that need to make voice calls in emergencies also use LTE Cat 1 thanks to its robust VoLTE capability: from alarm panels in the context of smart homes and smart buildings, or those used in connected elevators, to mobile personal emergency response systems (mPERS) that provide personal protection for the independent elderly, those who work or travel alone, or children, with full cellular two-way voice communication with the touch of a button or other types of voice-enabled connected health care devices.

6. What is Cat 1 bringing to the EMEA market?

Marco Stracuzzi: With the major European MNOs taking different strategies in adopting either LTE Cat M1 or NB1/NB2 in various countries, and some still in the middle of deploying those new technologies, LTE Cat 1 is the only pan-European cellular technology available today for IoT devices.

LTE Cat 1 is the most suitable technology for all those IoT-connected objects in the field that need a long-term upgrade from legacy and 2G and 3G technologies. Most European 3G networks will be phased out in the next couple of years, and 2G availability won’t be guaranteed beyond 2025.

7. How is the Cat 1 life cycle cost compatible with NB-IoT and LTE-M designs?

Joe Braga: They had been worlds apart until recently in a somewhat unexpected turn of events primarily caused by LTE-M and NB-IoT stubbornly slow growth. With 2G and 3G sunsetting globally in the next five years or so, Cat 1 — which enjoys almost the same level of coverage as 2G than any other standard — received a gentle technical evolutionary makeover to make it simpler to integrate and less costly to certify and mass produce. That is driving it closer to the business model curves that enable LTE-M and NB-IoT, minus the low power.

8. How does Cat 1 compare to its LPWA counterparts?

Joe Braga: Thanks to this technical simplification upgrade, global coverage and dropping price points for the Cat 1 module and Cat 1 connectivity plans, the standard is quickly expanding its use case portfolio into application areas typically reserved for cellular LPWA. One such segment is that of home and business alarm panels very well suited for LTE-M, which supports voice while being low cost and low complexity, is seeing quite a bit of traction with Cat 1, very likely to remain in place all the way to NR-Light. Other application-typical cellular LPWA use cases with less stringent requirements on cost, integration effort and power are all candidates for Cat 1 use, and that is a vast set of cases.