Sierra Wireless: LTE becoming an M2M prerequisite

Though machine-to-machine communications have traditionally needed to run on only the most basic digital communications networks, Sierra Wireless is pushing LTE as a must-have for emerging high-speed M2M applications and says even some older apps will eventually migrate to LTE.

Outside of the United States, where 3G has become an M2M mainstay, "most of the rest of the world, including Europe, still uses 2G, just 2G, for M2M," often because that is all available in rural and remote locations, Olivier Beaujard, vice president of business development at Sierra Wireless, told FierceBroadbandWireless.

Yet LTE is already starting to make a splash in two large vertical markets. "We see two applications, that are large in volume activity and revenue, needing LTE," said Beaujard, citing fixed networking and connected cars. Specifically, LTE has a growing role in networking for enterprises that do not have wireline broadband access or find wireline options are too costly. In addition, although telematics and many safety-related connected car applications run just fine on 2G, any service delivering Internet access to the car will benefit from LTE's low latency, Beaujard said.

Thanks to extensive LTE deployment, the United States and Australia are the early leaders in using LTE for M2M, said Beaugard. While operators in those areas are often interested in 2G/3G/4G M2M devices, operators in many other regions are looking to have only 2G/4G M2M devices because their 3G footprints may never extend into rural and remote areas.

In a recent white paer, Sierra Wireless listed video applications as an emerging M2M opportunity for LTE. "Examples include connected devices performing surveillance or transmitting video content. Devices may also combine video services with another form of computing--for example, a digital sign display that uses network-based facial-recognition technology to identify the age and gender of the person viewing it, and target advertising appropriately," said the paper.

In addition, LTE's low latency can lend itself to applications where responsiveness is critical. Sierra Wireless cites applications controlling sensitive equipment, industrial alarms and controls, traffic systems, medical devices and voiceover-IP are latency-sensitive apps that can benefit from, and even require, LTE.

Further, the company contends that even M2M solutions that do not require LTE speeds and latency will migrate to LTE, in part because the lifecycle of older cellular networks is wrapping up. Further, LTE's spectral efficiency makes it less expensive to operate than older technologies, "likely lowering operational costs over the lifetime of the connected device," said the white paper, which also noted that because most LTE networks support IPv6, they will be "well suited to mass M2M deployments that older networks cannot support."

Beaujard acknowledges that LTE modules currently carry higher prices than 2G or 3G modules, potentially stalling market growth, but he contends the price differential will fall over time as LTE device volumes ramp up and LTE coverage extends globally.

LTE devices are known for draining batteries, which is an issue when it comes to M2M deployments. Beaujard noted that the industry is working to improve power efficiency, with longer sleep cycles for latency-tolerant applications being one method.

Further, ongoing development work is aimed at creating low-cost LTE devices that operate at sub-1 Mbps maximum data rates. That means only a small part of bandwidth, such as 1.6 MHz rather than 20 Mhz, is used on the front end. Also, by lowering the transmit power, power consumption and hardware costs can be reduced.  

Sierra Wireless notes LTE vendors and standards groups also want to improve coverage and minimize the footprints of M2M devices accessing the cellular network. "One area ripe with possibilities is the potential to trade speed for coverage. Currently, LTE is optimized to use its larger bandwidth to deliver faster data rates. But theoretically, for M2M applications that don't require higher speeds, some of that spectrum could be used to improve in-building penetration, improving coverage for in-building M2M systems," said white paper.

For more:
- access the Sierra Wireless white paper (sign-in required)

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Article revised on April 9, 2012, to reflect the correct spelling of Olivier Beaujard's name following receipt of correct information from Sierra Wireless, which had supplied the original spelling.