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4G LTE Computers: How to Enable Cellular Data

By ·Categories: I/O Embedded & IoT, I/O HUB·Published On: November 4th, 2015·4.7 min read·

Cellular data has become a necessity for many of us. Whether we’re remotely uploading a recent photo from our smartphone, or using the GPS map system in our car, remote data is vital in today’s connected world. But the importance of cellular data now extends well beyond the world of consumer electronics.

In the past, the use of cellular data for industrial computing was rare due to the usual proximity an industrial PC had to either wireless or wired internet access. However, the need for remotely connected, rugged computers has grown exponentially in just the last few years, creating a need for hardware complete with reliable cellular network access.

Until fairly recently, the barrier to entry for cellular data in the world of IPC was twofold; speed of the connection and cost. But with the arrival of 4G LTE, both of those concerns have begun to evaporate and the use of, and need for, cellular data in the world of IPC has expanded dramatically.

What is 4G LTE?

4G LTE is the latest cellular data standard. 4G stands for fourth generation, while LTE is the acronym for Long Term Evolution. LTE is used to describe the particular protocol that delivers the fastest cellular data experience, and 4G LTE is very fast. With download speeds of up to 150Mbit/s, it’s as fast and sometimes faster than a home or business cable or DSL connection. With the widespread adoption of 4G LTE across consumer phone markets, coverage can now be utilized in most areas for a very reasonable price. In fact, based on complex metrics, OpenSignal.com says that 78% of the United States has 4G LTE coverage.

4G LTE Coverage Percentage in the US

With these advances in speed and availability, 4G LTE has become the perfect solution for many industrial computing applications including In-Vehicle, Data Acquisition and Internet of Things gateways. However, how do system integrators or end-users enable LTE access in their PC? It does require a special card and special antennas, something that can be difficult to find. Things gets even more complicated when you add the fact you need to find hardware that is compatible with your specific cell provider, of which there are at least a dozen offering 4G LTE. Let’s break down the requirements and considerations.

4G LTE Carriers

4G LTE CarriersThe first step in enabling 4G coverage for your PC is finding the right carrier. Although some geographic locations may only have a single choice, options tend to multiply as you get into more densely populated areas. Making the right choice is largely based on personal preference, coverage and cost. The key is to ensure the carrier you are choosing has coverage in all the areas you are looking to deploy your solution, especially if you are using it in an in-vehicle application.

What are the Differences Between Cellular Cards?

Often times, the hardest part of the system configuration process is finding a cellular card that is compatible with both your computer and your carrier. Each carrier uses a different set of bands and technologies, meaning that not every card is compatible with every carrier. You can usually purchase cards directly from the provider, but they are often very expensive and not tested for integration into your particular solution. Some of the key compatibility questions include how the card will interface with your computer (USB, Mini PCIe or other), how it will connect to antennas and what software it’s compatible with. Also, cards can come with a host of other features that may be crucial for your application including GPS, G-sensors and more.

Cellular Antennas

GSM and GPS AntennaThe last part of the cellular equation is antennas. In order to receive adequate signal to your PC, you need antennas that are tuned for your specific cellular coverage. The different “bands” that carriers use are actually different frequencies, each of which may require a slightly different antenna. GPS is a completely different frequency and requires an antenna of its own, and usually needs line of sight with the sky. The good news is that many antennas exist that cover a wide range of frequencies, making it easier to find the right solution. However, you will want to check what bands your carrier uses to ensure your antenna will provide signal. Antenna strength is measured in dB, with higher numbers meaning better signal strength.

A Logical Solution

Here at OnLogic, our Extrovert 4G LTE compatible systems offer plug-and-play cellular access thanks to our Extrovert modem, which combines a 4G LTE module with an integrated SIM card slot. The modems, which conform to the Mini PCIe form factor, easily interface with any OnLogic system that offers a Mini PCIe slot. Extrovert modems enable a fully integrated, industrial solution that saves users from the costly and time consuming process of 4G certification and makes 4G connectivity more accessible and easier than ever before.

As more an more hardware systems move out of the office and away from reliable internet connectivity, especially in the growing IoT space, cellular access is proving to be a vital component of today’s IPC systems. From mobile installations, to failover support, 4G LTE (and soon enough 5G cellular access) will continue to be an important configuration option for device builders in ever industry.

Learn More About Extrovert 4G LTE

See how our line of Extrovert 4G LTE systems enable easy, affordable cellular connectivity.

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About the Author: Logan Cooke

Logan Cooke is a Product Manager for Logic Supply. When not working, he enjoys Baseball, Politics and working on Race Cars.
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