Looking at the IoT Industry from the Mobile Broadband Perspective

November 20, 2017

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In the last decade, we’ve witnessed LTE transform the landscape of the mobile telecommunications industry at a speed faster than ever. The standard in commercial operation since early 2010, it has been without a doubt one of the most successful technologies deployed around the world. In fact, it already drives the entire wireless ecosystem, connecting over 25% of all mobile devices worldwide, a trend that continues to grow significantly.

Since LTE was initially developed, it has evolved, branching in two distinct directions. It Initially focused on enhanced mobile broadband, delivering higher data rates throughout. Later, a second path emerged, embracing the integration of the evolving paradigm of the IoT. Next, with 5G, the standard will introduce an even higher degree of optimization and efficiency in the network. A myriad of use cases for new and existing verticals and commercial applications will reveal solutions born from three major areas of development: enhanced mobile broadband, ultra-reliable, mission-critical applications and massive machine-type communications (mMTC).

Beyond that, LTE will continue to develop towards new frontiers, firmly establishing it as the dominant, mainstream mobile technology for many years to come. This will help sustain the pace of solution creation demanded by a wide variety of markets and applications. Below, I’ll dive into how we are taking advantage of mobile broadband opportunities to improve connectivity for a wide range of these IoT deployment applications.

On the Wave of IoT

With the rise in technology complexity, we have evolved our offerings in M2M communications and the IoT ecosystem, beyond cellular modules, integrating non-cellular wireless standards, positioning as well as connectivity and platform as a service. From the crest of the LTE evolution wave delivered with 3GPP Release 12 and 13, our module offerings also branched to accommodate different IoT deployment types in verticals requiring different types of data plans. Working with leading technology and ecosystem partners, our portfolio quickly expanded to include both NBIoT and Category M cellular modules to enable new applications and use cases for low data rates, ultralow power, and reduced complexity and cost.

Expanding the IoT Frontiers toward Mobile Broadband

On one end of the spectrum, the market includes speed-hungry applications where data rates matter. Here, we are exploring the IoT technology frontier by targeting the enhanced Mobile Broadband segment, delivering solutions based on the latest 3GPP standards. We now offer modules, data plans and platform solutions suitable for residential and industrial routers and gateways, fixed-LTE CPEs for home broadband connectivity as well as for those applications that require enhanced flexibility and mobility like laptops and tablets.

On this branch, our solutions available now range from the entry-level LTE Category 4 devices to widely-demanded Category 6, up to top-end Category 11 modems; with the latter capable of download speeds of 600 Mbps (enabled by 3xCA – carrier aggregation in three bands, 256-QAM modulation scheme and 2 x 2 MIMO antenna techniques). The coming generation of products will align even further with rising 3GPP standards, mobile network operators’ technology roadmaps and deployment of key LTE features like 4 x 4 MIMO over Multi-CA, LAA/eLAA taking advantage of 5GHz unlicensed spectrum, new spectrum opportunities in the 3.5 GHz band (e.g., B42, B43 and CBRS), eMBMS to enhance the modem proposition towards new market segments targeting video streaming and enabling mission-critical push-to-talk, VoLTE for voice-based devices, just to name a few.

Looking forward, we will continue augmenting its portfolio with new products either leading the way or certainly among the first in new technologies supported by the IoT ecosystem. That includes not just modules and solutions in the branch reaching for speeds in the Gigabit class but also in the exciting space of low-power wide-area (LPWA) already in the market now, also to be enhanced in 5G, to serve a wide variety of use cases.

Range of Form Factors Enable Manufacturers to Right-size Products to their Markets

The introduction of LTE with the ambitious path to data speeds over 1 Gbps would have been a big enough challenge in an ideal work of infinite spectrum availability. Add to it the reality of a highly fragmented spectrum with more than 40 frequency bands worldwide, and the level of complexity rises tremendously for mobile broadband modems that have to satisfy high throughput requirements in commercial applications for market regions, segments and verticals with different needs, requirements and constraints for data rates and volumes, operating temperature ranges, interfaces, dimensions, etc.

Modem manufacturers facing the challenges of addressing these needs, must not only deal with complexity in the RF front-end but also in the entire design of the module. One single SKU to implement all the capabilities and market requirements would make the modem cost-heavy, given that the combination of technologies would dictate a complicated hardware architecture with direct consequences in size and bill of materials (BOM).  But some price-elastic business cases like tablets and laptops for global travelers can accommodate the higher cost without effect on volumes.

Because of that, we take two approaches to the design of mobile broadband modems, sizing products just right for individual markets in both approaches. For the first approach, we reduce the number of frequency bands, limiting them strictly to those demanded by the target market to reduce RF front-end complexity, optimizing BOM on an LGA form factor for onboard mounting.

On the second, we take on more complexity, packaging the modem in more flexible, standard data card form factors that deliver a substantial reduction in time-to-market with a faster integration process. Data cards, in either the mini PCIe standard or the newer NGFF (Next-Generation Form Factor) M.2, can in fact be simply plug-and-play installed in end-user products, leveraging legacy designs. Because of using the same PBC design, it is possible to scale up for different market segments by just interchanging modems with different capabilities either for frequency, download speed, or both.

Broadband Modem Families

The LE922A6 family is an LGA form factor, the preferred choice where cost optimization is essential, and volumes allow providers to properly amortize design and development costs for a specific PCB and system. LGA modems are more market specific and optimized in frequency bands for regions and/or mobile network operators. LE922A6 product variants are LTE Category 6 modules supporting 2xCA for a throughput of 300Mbps download and 50Mbps upload. They also feature enhanced robustness and extended temperature range for consumer, residential and industrial applications.

The LM940 is our flagship data card modem in mini PCIe form format and can equip designs for worldwide deployments with a single SKU. It features a complex and comprehensive RF Front-end with more than 25 LTE frequency bands and is capable of LTE Category 11 download performance: 600 Mbps, 3xCA, 256-QAM; and Category 5 upload: 75 Mbps, 64-QAM. Furthermore, it can fall back to 3G and includes an integrated GNSS module delivering class-leading positioning. It addresses a wide range of segments including network routers and gateways as well as mobile computing.

Try Mobile Broadband Today

Mobile broadband technology is changing the way that organizations connect and manage their IoT-enabled devices. Are you ready to see just what this cellular internet connection can do for your organization? Find out more about mobile broadband coverage and availability for your connected devices.

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