Now, I wanted to clear something up before I get started.  When I say that CAT-M is tracking the previously “untrackable”, I don’t want to imply that you could not have tracked many of the items with previous or current cellular technology ... you most certainly could have.  It is just that the cost and form factors of devices would have made it unfeasible.

 

CAT-M, and eventually NB-IoT, bring a few new things to the world of IoT, namely through the process of removal.  Huh? 

What I mean is that by removing things that are not needed for many basic IoT applications, they are able to simplify products to the point that their cost, battery usage and form factor (assuming the manufacturer decides to make it smaller) make it more feasible financially to track more things than ever before.

To recap, CAT-M offers:

  • Lower speeds that simplify the design of the chipset, resulting in less components needed
  • Lowers the power consumption, allowing for either a smaller battery to be used or longer battery life from existing batteries
  • Potentially smaller form factors for the chipset, allowing the board to fit into smaller areas than ever before.

 

What are some of the things that may be tracked for the first time using cellular networks?

  1. Lower-cost Industrial Equipment (pumps, valves, rental equipment and more)
  2. Consumer Medical equipment (like blood pressure machines, EKG machines and CPAPs)
  3. Non-powered equipment (like Porta-potties, industrial fencing and warehouse skids)
  4. Package/shipment tracking on lower value items
  5. In-home machinery/appliances (like fridge, stove and HVAC units)

 

Why not just use Wi-Fi or Bluetooth for most of these things?

This is a valid question, as many of these things are often used in close vicinity to where you may expect to have an available connection (either through your phone or a Wi-Fi network).  However, there are two issues to consider here.  First, consumers only feel the need to attach/maintain connectivity for a device when they see the value in gathering information from it, such as in the case of a wearable reporting your steps.  It is unlikely that many will see value in connecting their fridge.  This means that the manufacturer cannot rely on consistent usage data to be returned to them, eliminating one of the main benefits for IoT.

The second issue is that many devices, especially in the world of medicine, are used by people who may not be that technically-savvy, meaning that they may not have a smartphone and/or available Wi-Fi connection.   This is often the case for many seniors.  As well, many homes have spotty Wi-Fi coverage, so adding a cellular-based connection eliminates that issue.

As the cost of Cellular IoT hardware continues to fall with each generation of product, expect this trend to only accelerate as time goes on.