IoT Blog
IoT Blog

How Car Share Companies Are Leveraging LTE-M Networks for the Internet of Things

by Benoit Tournier, Director of Marketing, Transportation
Car-sharing companies face several technology challenges that are unique to the industry. To start, a car-sharing company needs to have the most extensive wireless network coverage possible to locate each car and connect all its fleet, whether the cars are parked or in motion. The IoT technology that car-sharing companies use needs to be simple, reliable everywhere at any time, and use as little power as possible. 

Combining extended coverage with low power consumption and low device complexity used to be a difficult balancing act. Now, with the introduction of LTE-M networks for the Internet of Things (IoT), car-sharing companies can seamlessly combine these features in their devices, making it easy to track vehicles in their fleet. 

The LTE-M Network Transition

To use LTE-M networks for the IoT, you’ll need to understand how this technology applies to the car-sharing industry. LTE Cat-M1 (LTE-M for short, also known as eMTC) is a 3GPP standard-based low-power wide-area (LPWA) cellular technology that connects IoT devices more efficiently and cost-effectively than other 2G/3G/4G technologies. For car-sharing companies, this means longer battery life for telematics devices and a much larger tracking range. The extended battery life can be especially helpful for car-sharing companies that would like to monitor their vehicles while they’re parked, without draining the vehicle’s battery. 

Normally, vehicle tracking devices use the vehicle’s battery while the engine is running. Once the engine is turned off, the tracking device can switch the power supply to its internal rechargeable backup battery, or use the vehicle’s battery to continue running. If the device uses the vehicle’s battery for too long, the car battery will eventually die, and your company will no longer be able to track the vehicle—plus, the driver will arrive to a car that’s in need of a jump start. That’s definitely not an ideal scenario.

Since the low power requirements of LTE-M enable a longer battery life, these systems are much more accurate. If the vehicle is parked for several weeks —or the car is stolen— the tracking device can still be used to locate it. 

Another benefit of using LTE-M networks for the IoT is extended network coverage (5-10x greater coverage than 4G LTE, thanks to 164dB of Link Budget). This enables car-sharing companies to connect to cars parked underground, cars left in rural areas where connections are scarce, and even vehicles in dense urban canyons, where standard 3G/4G networks don’t provide any coverage. As an added benefit for car-sharing startups and established businesses alike, LTE-M systems cost less than 3G or 4G systems to manufacture and operate. 

LTE-M networks leverage other cellular mobile networks like 4G, making the transition process very smooth. We’ll likely continue to see companies slowly transition to LTE-M over the next few years, until about 2020. By that time LTE-M will become common among car-sharing companies. And we could see even greater extended coverage using smart SIM technology: Sierra Wireless smart SIM detects the best network available, which will make the transition simpler from 2G/3G/4G to LTE-M and provide your users with the best network coverage anyplace, at anytime.

How LTE-M Networks Benefit Fleets

Lower power consumption, extended coverage and improved costs for car-sharing companies are the main perks of an LPWA network. However, other LPWA technologies you may have heard of, such as NB-IoT, SigFox and LoRa are not suitable options for car sharing applications. Unlike other LPWA technologies, LTE-M is the only one to support mobility (handover, etc…), enabling tracking for cars on the move. When you’re managing a fleet, you need continuous connectivity while the vehicle is in motion. With LTE-M, handovers are seamless. 

Unlike other LPWA technologies, LTE-M is the only one to provide enough bandwidth for car sharing use cases. As it stands, fleet management apps don’t require a great deal of bandwidth to operate (3G/4G being typically oversized for fleet management apps); but still, typical applications require about 2-50MB per month, which cannot be supported with other LPWA technologies. 

By using LTE-M, fleets will get extended cellular network coverage, while maintaining the low power requirements of an LPWA technology. This also means that devices’ requirements (such as battery, processing power, heating dissipation, etc.) will be minimal when making the transition into LTE-M.

How to Use LTE-M to Your Advantage

The main use that car-sharing companies will have for LTE-M networks is improved tracking for parked vehicles. Tracking cars that haven’t been in motion for days at a time will quickly drain the device’ and car’s battery in traditional tracking systems. After two weeks of monitoring that car in a parking space, the device’s battery will begin to drain, and you would have to physically turn the car’s engine on in order to recharge the tracking device. Traditional tracking often requires a great deal more energy to run compared to LTE-M, so this means that you can’t leave vehicles in your fleet parked for more than two weeks at a time, at most. Meanwhile, LTE-M uses so little power that you could continue tracking the parked car for several weeks without a recharge. This will also help you keep track of stolen vehicles far more effectively. 

LTE-M’s extended network coverage allows you to spot vehicles anywhere, whether they’re in a densely populated city, underground or in urban canyons, or on a rural road. What’s more, even if a car thief parks a stolen car in a garage for weeks at a time, you can still track it down. 

In the future, LTE-M will also lead to more innovation in automated fleets. Cars that rely on automated systems to navigate traffic without a driver’s manual input cannot rely on standard connectivity for safety reasons. LTE-M’s extended coverage could help future automated vehicles make the correct decisions and reporting (out of band management). In this sense, LTE-M is truly the future of the car-sharing industry and the automotive industry as a whole. 

To find out how to implement LTE-M technology in your own car-sharing fleet, Start with Sierra. We have all the tools you need to update your car share system with the most accurate, low-power technology available. Using our wireless modules and IoT services, you can build your own car-sharing system from scratch, allowing you to get your fleet connected quickly and efficiently.