SAN JOSE, Calif. – The Category 0 option for 4G LTE cellular has fallen to the pruner’s shears. It is the latest alternative to be weeded out of the road map for low power cellular that had become overcrowded in the race to network the world for the Internet of Things.
In the past year a growing set of low power wide area (LPWA) networks have emerged targeting IoT. Sigfox, LoRa, Weightless, Ingenu and others aim to undercut the cost and power consumption of today’s cellular.
In the rush to respond, Altair and Sequans are already shipping LTE Category 1 chips that ratchet data rates back to 10 Mbits/second (downlink) and 5 Mbits/s (uplink). Qualcomm officially announced Monday it will deliver its own Cat 1 chips early next year.
Vendors had planned a follow up LTE Category 0 that would lower maximum data rates to sub-Megabit rates with chips that could have shipped before 2017. However, vendors decided that specification would not offer enough differentiation before its follow-on emerged, Category M also known as eMTC.
“CAT-0 is in fact being skipped, and we have argued it should be for quite a while,” said Eran Eshed, a co-founder and vice president of marketing and business development at Altair. “It offers marginal cost savings over Cat 1, no power advantages over Cat 1 and requires infrastructure upgrades that Cat 1 doesn't,” he said.
“Furthermore Cat M is now just around the corner, so the motivation for carriers to go to Cat 0 is practically not there, yet we do support it for customers who insist on Cat 0,” he added.
Category M by all accounts is the big win. It will target a max data rate of 100-200 Kbits/s with features that make it more spectrum efficient than what was planned for Cat 0, said Aapo Markkanen, an analyst at Machina Research. Others suggest Cat M could deliver data rates of 400-700 Kbits/s.
Just when Cat M arrives is unclear. Qualcomm would only say its chips for Cat M and a separate class of 3G-based networks called narrowband IoT (NB-IoT) are “expected to align with the 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP) Rel.13,” suggesting it’s unclear when the specs will be complete enough to start building chips.
“I’m being told that the specification for LTE-M (Cat M) is pretty complete and ready to be included in LTE Release 13, but I’ve found it impossible to get a coherent response from the vendors about what it actually will entail,” said Markkanen.
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