Why is GSM still better than NB-IoT for bicycles/pedelecs in Europe?

Why is GSM still better than NB-IoT for bicycles in Europe? 
What the major networks do not tell you.

Dr. Guodong Li, Lockheed Technology Ltd

First, let us start with the basics…. What is IoT?

IoT is the Internet of Things and is a system to transfer data without requiring human-to-human or human-to-computer interaction.

IoT devices are perhaps most commonly used in a Smart home setting and is typically an IoT application case. You can access and control your home devices and appliances without physically touching them. Also, those devices and appliances will know what your preferences are, such as your prefered temperature on the thermostat, favourite playlist or light setting, hence they are being smart to serve you better.

You are probably already familiar with some of the most popular smart home devices around now such as:

Wearable devices are increasingly popular and another example of IoT use in our daily life. For example, the Apple watch:

IoT technology is also engaged with modern transportation and infrastructure projects as well as connected or Smart vehicles which are now common in Europe and as we go about our daily journeys it communicates the traffic information dynamically and prevents you from hitting traffic jams as well as traffic hazards…usually!


So we have seen that there are many applications for IoT technology which are already part of our everyday lives and that the number of connected devices is going to grow exponentially over the next few years from fridge’s to clothing and cameras to cat flaps.

Arguably, one of the most exciting areas of IoT application is in the bicycle industry where there is a need for both new bicycles and e-bikes to be smart as they roll off the production line. However there is also a desire for existing bicycles to be ‘made’ smart through the addition of hardware on the bicycle which in turn links to the software application.

There are many benefits for the rider, manufacturer, retailer and society at large in having smart bicycles and this will be covered in much more detail in another post (or visit www.leopardtech.co.uk for more information). For now let’s focus on the technology behind connected devices and what the major differences, advantages and disadvantages of NB-IoT vs GSM

NB-IoT (Narrowband Internet of Things) is treated as the upgrade technology of GSM (The Global System for Mobile Communications) and not without a good reason. NB-IoT has lower power consumption meaning you get more battery life, and 20dB signal gain, which means you will have better signal inside your garage… so long as it’s not made of metal! Most major network operators in Europe actively engaged in the NB-IoT market. It’s getting a great deal of publicity and being pushed hard as the next leap forward in the technology. However, here is what the network operators do not usually tell you.

Limited Coverage

The coverage of NB-IoT networks is not as good as GSM in Europe. It might be OK in the major cities however the signal is not guaranteed in out of city areas and some countries. Here is the deployment map of NB-IoT.

Countries in blue and purple decide to deploy NB-IoT networks, but it will take a few more years for them to complete the infra-structure.(1.0)

GSM network construction was completed in Europe in 2009. It covers all European countries, in both cities and countryside. (1.1)

Connection when moving

With NB-IoT, the device needs to reselect the cell as it travels. You will find the signal quite poor when you are moving. During our road test, it could take a few minutes for the NB-IoT device to register in the network. The fact is, that NB-IoT is not designed for the mobile use case. It is a perfect solution for the fixed-location use, for example, smart meter, fire alarm, traffic light etc. With GSM, there is no such issue making it more advantageous for use within bicycles.


NB-IoT modules are much more expensive than GSM ones. The price will drop when more NB-IoT devices are available in the market but for the moment you are paying a premium without any additional value.


An advantage of NB-IoT is it has two working conditions, low frequency usage and high frequency usage. In low frequency usage the power consumption will be less but as most cyclists are using their bike daily or 2/3 times per week this mode will rarely be activated so the benefit is not realised. In high frequency usage (which will be the norm for most cyclists) the power consumption is similar to GSM.

So, in summary, If you need to track or manage your moving devices such as bicycles you will need the connectivity outside the cities and it must be a stable connection while moving. This is why we believe GSM is the solution for cyclists at this present time.

However if you want to future proof your ride and ensure you are getting maximum benefit from your smart bike then it makes sense to have a device with both GSM and NB-IoT ensuring your bicycle has the most stable connection in every eventuality from tackling wild terrain, the urban commute or resting up at the bike rack.

For more information and see what smart connectivity can do for your riding or your customers, please get in touch with us at Leopard Tech – www.leopardtech.co.uk

“Smart IoT connectivity for the bicycle and the LEV market”

(1.0) Image source: https://www.gsma.com/iot/deployment-map/#deployments

(1.1) Image source: https://www.europa.uk.com/gsm-world-coverage-map-2009/

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