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Examination of Radio Range & Handover Capabilities of Major Mobile Technologies

Future Telematics
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In wireless communications, radio range and cell handover capabilities are critical factors when selecting connectivity technologies. Radio range refers to the maximum distance that a signal can travel from a base station and still maintain an acceptable quality of service, whereas cell handover refers to the ability to switch between different radio masts, frequencies or technologies. This article will delve into the radio ranges and cell handover capabilities of six popular or upcoming wireless technologies: 4G, LTE-M, NB-IoT, LoRaWAN, 5G and 5G Redcap.

Radio Ranges of Prominent Cellular Technologies


4G, also known as the fourth generation of mobile communication, offers a significant improvement in speed and capacity compared to its predecessors. The radio range of 4G is dependent on numerous factors like the frequency band, antenna height, and terrain. Under ideal conditions, it can reach up to 10 miles (16 kilometres). However, in densely populated urban areas, the range is often much less due to the presence of buildings and other structures.


LTE-M (Long Term Evolution for Machines) is a low power wide area network (LPWAN) technology that operates within the licensed spectrum of wireless carriers. It is designed for IoT applications, offering a balance between range and power consumption. The typical radio range of LTE-M is around 7 miles (11 kilometres). However, it can reach further in unobstructed rural areas.


NB-IoT (Narrowband IoT) is another LPWAN technology that operates within the licensed spectrum. It provides wider coverage and lower power consumption than LTE-M, making it ideal for static IoT devices. NB-IoT can provide a radio range of up to 10 miles (16 kilometres) in urban areas and further in open or rural areas in perfect conditions.


LoRaWAN (Long Range Wide Area Network) is a media access control (MAC) layer protocol designed for large-scale public networks. It operates in the unlicensed radio spectrum, offering a low-cost solution for IoT applications. The radio range of LoRaWAN is quite impressive, with distances up to 2-5 km in urban areas, and up to 15 km in suburban areas. In optimal conditions, the range can even extend beyond 20 km in perfect terrain and conditions.


5G, the fifth generation of mobile communication, is designed to provide faster speeds, lower latency, and higher capacity than 4G. However, due to the higher frequency bands employed, the radio range of 5G is shorter than 4G. The range of 5G can vary widely but is typically around 1,000 feet (300 meters) in urban areas. In rural areas, the range can extend up to a few kilometres.

5G Redcap

5G Redcap (Reduced Capability) is a subset of 5G designed for devices that require extended coverage and low power consumption. It employs lower frequency bands, which allows it to achieve a greater radio range than standard 5G. While the specific range of 5G Redcap can vary depending on the deployment, it can potentially cover large geographic areas like 4G.

Read: 5G IoT Connectivity: The Potential of 5G RedCap (

Radio Ranges: Conclusion

In conclusion, the radio range of a wireless technology can influence its application and effectiveness. While technologies like 5G offer incredible speed and capacity, their range is limited. On the other hand, LPWAN technologies like LTE-M, NB-IoT, and LoRaWAN provide a wider range and lower power consumption, making them ideal for IoT applications. Understanding these differences can help in selecting the right technology for a given application.

Factors that Affect Radio Range

The radio range of 4G and indeed, any wireless technology, can be influenced by a variety of factors. Here are a few key elements:

Frequency Band: The frequency band a network operates in can significantly impact its range. Lower frequencies can travel farther and penetrate obstacles better than higher frequencies. Therefore, 4G networks using lower frequencies tend to have a broader range.

Antenna Height and Power: The height of the transmitting antenna and its power can also impact the radio range. Higher antennas can broadcast signals over greater distances. Similarly, a more powerful antenna can transmit signals further.

Read: IoT Power Budgets: IoT Connectivity Technologies & Batteries (

Terrain: The physical environment can affect the range of a 4G signal. In urban areas with multiple buildings, the range can be significantly reduced due to signal reflection, diffraction, and absorption. On the other hand, in rural or open areas, the range can be much larger.

Weather Conditions: Weather conditions can also influence the radio range. Conditions like rain, snow, and fog can cause signal attenuation, reducing the range.

Interference: Radio signals from other sources can interfere with the 4G signal, causing signal degradation and reducing the effective range. This is more common in urban areas with many different types of radio transmissions.

Cell Tower Density: In densely populated areas, cell towers are often placed closer together to accommodate the high demand. This can reduce the radio range per tower but provides better network coverage and capacity overall.

Exploration of Radio Frequency Bands: From 4G to 5G RedCap


With millions of devices communicating with each other across various wireless networks, the world is becoming increasingly connected. These networks, whether they are 4G, LTE-M, NB-IoT, LoRaWAN, 5G, or the emerging 5G RedCap, utilize different radio frequency bands to transmit and receive data. Understanding these frequency bands is crucial to comprehending the complexities and capabilities of each network.

4G Frequency Bands

Fourth Generation (4G) networks use multiple frequency bands, typically ranging from 700 MHz to 2600 MHz. The bands are divided into FDD (Frequency Division Duplex) and TDD (Time Division Duplex). The lower frequency bands (like 700 MHz) have greater range and penetration capabilities, making them more suitable for rural areas and indoor usage. Conversely, higher frequency bands (like 2600 MHz) have higher data capacity, making them ideal for densely populated urban areas.

LTE-M Frequency Bands

Long-Term Evolution for Machines (LTE-M) is a low-power wide-area network (LPWAN). It typically operates within the same frequency bands as the standard 4G LTE, allowing it to use the existing infrastructure. However, due to its design for low-power, long-range communication, it often uses lower frequency bands, like 700 MHz or 800 MHz.

NB-IoT Frequency Bands

Narrowband IoT (NB-IoT) is another LPWAN technology designed for IoT applications. It operates in three types of bands: standalone, in-band, and guard-band, within the existing LTE frequency bands. The actual frequency used depends on the service provider and the region.

Further Reading: NB-IoT vs LTE-M: What are the differences? | Caburn Telecom

LoRaWAN Frequency Bands

LoRaWAN operates in the ISM (Industrial, Scientific, and Medical) band, which is license-free. The specific frequency ranges used vary by region: in Europe, it is typically 868 MHz; in North America, it is 915 MHz; and in Asia, it’s often 923 MHz. The advantage of these bands is they allow for long-range communication with minimal power usage.

5G Frequency Bands

Fifth Generation (5G) networks operate in a wider range of frequencies, from sub-1 GHz to 100 GHz. These are categorized into two main bands: FR1 (below 6 GHz) and FR2 (24.25 GHz to 52.6 GHz), often referred to as the “millimetre wave” band. The lower frequencies offer wider coverage and better building penetration, while the higher frequencies provide much higher data rates and capacity.

Further Reading: 5G in Smart Cities: Unlocking New Potential & 5G Router Technologies: Expected & Potential Applications (

5G RedCap Frequency Bands

5G Reduced Capability (RedCap) devices are designed for low-cost, wide-area applications. These devices can operate within the same frequency bands as standard 5G, but due to their focus on coverage and energy efficiency, they are more likely to use the lower frequency bands within the FR1 range.

Frequency Bands & Range: Conclusion

The choice of frequency band significantly influences the performance, range, and application of each network. As we move towards a more connected world, understanding these frequency bands and their associated trade-offs will be critical for the development and deployment of future wireless technologies. The ongoing evolution of these networks promises exciting advancements in the field of wireless communication.

Further Reading: IoT Modems & IoT SIM Card Relationships (

Example 1: 4G, How Cell Tower Density Affects Range

The density of cell towers in a specific area plays a crucial role in defining the radio range of 4G networks.

In densely populated urban areas, cell towers are typically placed closer together. This is done to manage the large number of users and high data demand. Each individual cell tower covers a smaller area or ‘cell’, hence the term ‘cellular network’. This results in a smaller radio range per tower, but it allows for better overall network coverage and capacity.

The high number of towers ensures that many users can connect to the network simultaneously without suffering from reduced speeds or dropped connections. It also helps in maintaining a strong signal strength throughout the covered area, which is vital for high-speed 4G data transmission.

Conversely, in rural or less populated areas, cell towers are spaced farther apart because the user demand is lower. Each tower covers a larger area, but the number of users it can support at high speeds is also much lower due to the greater distance signals need to travel. This can lead to a larger radio range per tower, but potentially with lower signal quality and slower data speeds, especially at the outer edges of the coverage area.

In summary, while the density of cell towers can affect the radio range of a 4G network, it’s part of a balancing act to ensure consistent, high-quality coverage for as many users as possible.

Example 2: LTE-M, Key Factors That Affect Range

The range of LTE-M (Long-Term Evolution for Machines) is affected by several factors:

Geography and Topography: The physical landscape influences the range of LTE-M. Dense urban environments with high buildings can cause signal degradation and loss, while open rural areas allow for better signal propagation. Hills, mountains, and other natural obstructions can also impact the range.

Building Materials: The signal strength can be affected by the materials used in buildings. Metals, concrete, and certain types of glass can significantly weaken signal strength, reducing the effective range of LTE-M within these buildings.

Cell Tower Density: Like regular LTE, the more cell towers in an area, the better the coverage and range. However, in areas with fewer cell towers, the signal needs to cover a larger area.

Frequency Bands: Lower frequency bands can travel longer distances and penetrate buildings better than higher frequency bands. Therefore, the frequency band used by the network can impact the range of LTE-M.

Interference: Other electronic devices, wireless networks, and even certain weather conditions can interfere with the LTE-M signal, potentially reducing its range.

Network Traffic: High network traffic can overload cell towers, reducing the effective range and signal quality of LTE-M.

Power Class: LTE-M devices have different power classes. A lower power class device will have a shorter range than a higher power class device.

In order to optimize the range and performance of LTE-M, network providers must consider all these factors and more.

Connectivity Performance, Handover Protocols & Effect on Mobile Coverage :

Cell handover, also known as handoff, is the process of transferring an ongoing call or data session from one cell to another as a mobile device moves within the coverage area of different base stations. The handover process varies across different network types, namely, 4G, LTE-M, NB-IoT, LoRaWAN, 5G, and 5G RedCap. Let us explore the differences in cell handover for each network type:

4G Handover:

4G networks employ a smooth handover mechanism called “inter-cell handover” or “inter-RAT handover” (Radio Access Technology). It allows for seamless handover between different 4G cells or between 4G and 3G cells.

The handover decision is typically based on parameters such as signal strength, signal quality, and data rate. When the device’s current cell signal weakens below a certain threshold, it triggers a handover to a neighbouring cell with a stronger signal.

The handover process in 4G networks is designed to maintain the ongoing session without noticeable interruption.

LTE-M Handover:

LTE-M networks, being a low-power wide-area network (LPWAN), have a different approach to cell handover compared to traditional cellular networks.

In LTE-M, the coverage areas of base stations are much larger, which reduces the need for frequent handovers. Devices can maintain connections with a single base station over longer distances.

However, if a device moves out of the coverage area of one base station, it initiates a new connection with another nearby base station. This process involves re-establishing the session with the new base station.


Similar to LTE-M, NB-IoT also operates in a low-power wide-area network (LPWAN) environment.

NB-IoT devices have even more extensive coverage areas than LTE-M devices, which minimizes the need for frequent handovers.

When a device moves out of the coverage area of one base station, it reconnects with another base station within range. The handover process involves re-establishing the session and maintaining the connection with the new base station.


LoRaWAN, another LPWAN technology, has a different approach to handover compared to cellular networks.

LoRaWAN devices communicate with gateway devices that cover a large area. Unlike cellular networks, LoRaWAN does not involve frequent handovers between base stations or gateways.

When a device moves out of the coverage area of one gateway, it simply connects to another gateway that provides coverage in the new location. This process is transparent to the end device.

5G Handover:

5G networks introduce several new features to enhance the handover process, including ultra-reliable low-latency communication (URLLC) and network slicing.

5G networks support fast and seamless handovers between cells, even at higher speeds. This is achieved through a combination of beamforming, massive MIMO (Multiple-Input Multiple-Output), and advanced handover algorithms.

The handover decision in 5G is based on a range of parameters, including signal strength, signal quality, data rate, and latency requirements. The goal is to maintain uninterrupted connectivity and ensure optimal performance.

5G RedCap:

5G RedCap, being a variant of 5G designed for low-cost, wide-area applications, prioritizes coverage and energy efficiency over high data rates.

The handover process in 5G RedCap is like standard 5G networks. It utilizes advanced handover algorithms to ensure seamless connectivity as devices move between cells.

However, due to the focus on coverage, 5G RedCap devices are more likely to prioritize handover to neighbouring cells with lower frequency bands, as they offer better coverage and penetration capabilities.

In conclusion, the cell handover process varies across different network types. While 4G and 5G networks focus on seamless handover between cells or different radio access technologies, LPWAN technologies like LTE-M, NB-IoT, and LoRaWAN prioritize longer connections and reestablishing sessions when devices move out of coverage areas. Each network type has its own considerations and optimizations based on their specific characteristics and use cases.

Example A: Handover Criteria for 4G Networks

In 4G networks, several parameters are used to make handover decisions. The handover decision is typically based on a combination of these parameters to ensure a seamless transition between cells. Here are the key parameters used in 4G handover decisions:

Signal Strength: Signal strength is one of the most important parameters in handover decisions. It represents the power level of the signal received from the base station. When the signal strength falls below a certain threshold, indicating that the device is moving away from the current cell, the handover process is triggered.

Signal Quality: In addition to signal strength, signal quality is also considered. It represents the overall quality of the signal, including factors such as noise, interference, and distortion. If the signal quality drops below a certain threshold, it may indicate a degraded connection, prompting the handover process.

Data Rate: The data rate is the speed at which data is being transmitted between the device and the base station. If the data rate falls below a certain threshold, it may indicate a congested or poorly performing cell. In such cases, a handover to a neighbouring cell with better data rates can improve the user experience.

Received Signal Code Power (RSCP): RSCP is a parameter specific to WCDMA (Wideband Code Division Multiple Access) technology, which is used in 4G networks. It represents the power level of the received signal after it is spread using a unique code. The handover decision can be based on the RSCP value, where a lower value may trigger a handover.

Ec/Io (Ec/No): Ec/Io is another parameter specific to WCDMA technology, which represents the ratio of the received energy per chip to the interference power density. It provides an indication of the quality of the received signal. If the Ec/Io value falls below a certain threshold, it may trigger a handover to a cell with a better Ec/Io value.

Load Balancing: Load balancing is a technique used to distribute the traffic load across multiple cells in a network. In 4G networks, handover decisions may also consider the load on neighbouring cells. If a neighbouring cell has a lower load, it may be preferred for handover to optimize network performance.

Mobility Management: 4G networks employ mobility management algorithms that consider the device’s mobility pattern, speed, and direction. These algorithms help predict the future position of the device and facilitate proactive handover decisions to ensure uninterrupted connectivity.

It’s important to note that the specific thresholds and algorithms used for handover decisions may vary between different network operators and vendors. These parameters are continuously monitored and evaluated to maintain optimal network performance and user experience during handovers in 4G networks.

Example B: Handover Criteria for 5G Networks

5G networks have advanced cell handover capabilities compared to their predecessors. Handover, also known as handoff, is the process of transferring an ongoing call or data session from one cell in a network to another. Here is what you should know about 5G handover:

Seamless Handover: 5G networks are designed to provide seamless handovers. This means that even when a device moves from one cell to another, the transition is smooth, and the user does not experience any interruption in service.

Interoperability: 5G networks can handover connections to 4G networks where 5G is not available. This is known as inter-system handover. This ensures continuity of service when 5G coverage is weak or unavailable.

High-Speed Handover: 5G is designed to support very high-speed mobility. This means it can handle handovers for devices in fast-moving vehicles like trains and cars without dropping the connection.

Load Balancing: 5G networks can manage traffic and balance loads between cells. If one cell is congested, a 5G network can handover some devices to a less busy cell to maintain quality of service.

Beamforming and Massive MIMO: With advanced technologies like beamforming and Massive MIMO (Multiple Input Multiple Output), 5G networks can direct a focused signal towards the user’s device and facilitate efficient handovers. These technologies also help in managing handovers in densely populated areas by directing signals to specific devices rather than broadcasting in all directions.

Edge Computing: By processing data closer to the user’s device, edge computing can reduce the delay in communication between the device and the network, making handovers faster and more efficient.

In summary, 5G networks have robust and efficient handover capabilities to ensure uninterrupted and high-quality service for mobile users.

Example C: Handover Criteria for LTE-M Networks

LTE-M (Long-Term Evolution for Machines) is a cellular technology designed specifically for Internet of Things (IoT) devices. LTE-M supports various handover protocols for seamless connectivity and efficient communication. The cell handover protocols in LTE-M include:

Inter-frequency Handover: LTE-M devices can perform inter-frequency handovers when moving between different frequency bands within the LTE-M spectrum. This allows devices to switch to a different frequency channel to maintain a stable connection as they move across cell boundaries.

Intra-frequency Handover: Intra-frequency handover is used when LTE-M devices move within the same frequency band but switch between different cells. This handover protocol ensures uninterrupted connectivity as the device transitions between neighbouring cells within the same frequency.

Inter-RAT Handover: LTE-M devices can also perform inter-radio access technology (RAT) handovers. This means that LTE-M devices can switch between LTE-M networks and other compatible cellular technologies, such as 2G or 3G networks, based on the availability and signal strength of the networks.

These handover protocols in LTE-M are crucial for maintaining a reliable and continuous connection for IoT devices. They enable devices to seamlessly switch between different cells, frequencies, and even different cellular technologies, ensuring optimal network coverage and efficient data transmission.

Handover protocols play a crucial role in LTE-M (Long-Term Evolution for Machines) for IoT devices due to the following reasons:

Seamless Connectivity: IoT devices are often mobile or deployed in areas with varying network conditions. Handover protocols ensure seamless connectivity by enabling devices to smoothly transition between different cells or frequency bands. This ensures uninterrupted data transmission and maintains a consistent connection for IoT devices as they move across different coverage areas.

Network Optimization: Handover protocols help optimize network resources by efficiently managing the allocation of network resources to IoT devices. By performing handovers, when necessary, the network can allocate resources to devices that require them the most, improving overall network performance and capacity utilization.

Quality of Service (QoS): IoT applications often require specific levels of QoS, such as low latency or high reliability. Handover protocols in LTE-M allow devices to switch to cells or frequency bands that offer better signal quality, reducing packet loss and ensuring reliable and timely delivery of data. This helps meet the QoS requirements of IoT applications, particularly those that involve real-time monitoring, control, or critical data transmission.

Network Resilience: Handover protocols enhance the resilience of IoT networks by providing backup options in case of network congestion, signal degradation, or failures. When the quality of the current connection deteriorates, handover protocols enable devices to switch to a more suitable cell or frequency band, ensuring continuous connectivity and reducing the impact of network disruptions.

Interoperability: LTE-M supports inter-RAT handover, allowing devices to switch between LTE-M networks and other compatible cellular technologies, such as 2G or 3G networks. This interoperability ensures that IoT devices can connect to the most suitable network available, expanding their coverage area and enabling connectivity in areas where LTE-M coverage may be limited.

In summary, handover protocols in LTE-M for IoT devices are important as they ensure seamless connectivity, optimize network resources, enhance QoS, improve network resilience, and provide interoperability options. These protocols enable IoT devices to maintain reliable and efficient communication, even in dynamic network environments.

Example D: Handover for NB-IoT Networks

NB-IoT, or Narrowband Internet of Things, is a technology standard designed for IoT applications, offering wide coverage, low power consumption, and optimized cost. Now, let us discuss its cell handover capabilities:

Intra-frequency handover: NB-IoT supports intra-frequency handover, which means the device can switch between different cells operating on the same frequency. It helps maintain a stable connection when the device is moving within the coverage area of various cells on the same frequency.

Inter-frequency handover: Unlike intra-frequency, NB-IoT does not support inter-frequency handover. It means the device cannot automatically switch between cells operating on different frequencies.

Limited Mobility: NB-IoT is designed for devices with limited mobility. Therefore, the need for handover is significantly reduced. Devices using NB-IoT are often stationary or move infrequently, such as smart meters or environmental sensors.

Cell Reselection: Instead of handover, NB-IoT devices typically use a process called cell reselection. If a device finds a cell with a better signal, it will disconnect from the current cell and re-connect to the better one. This process is slower than a typical handover but is adequate for devices with limited mobility.

Coverage Enhancement: NB-IoT uses a feature called coverage enhancement to improve connectivity in challenging environments, which reduces the need for frequent handovers. It allows devices to operate even in areas with weak signal strength, such as indoors or underground.

To summarize, the NB-IoT technology is not designed for high mobility use cases and thus does not support advanced handover capabilities like some other cellular technologies (e.g., LTE). However, its cell reselection and coverage enhancement features make it a reliable choice for IoT applications with limited mobility requirements.

Example E: Handover for LoRaWAN Networks

LoRaWAN (Long Range Wide Area Network) is a protocol designed for wireless communication on Internet of Things (IoT) devices. Here is what you should know about its cell handover capabilities:

No Handover: Unlike cellular networks, LoRaWAN does not support traditional cell handover. This is because the LoRaWAN architecture involves a star-of-stars topology where each end-device communicates directly with multiple gateways, with no direct communication between devices.

Multiple Gateways: In LoRaWAN, a message from a device can be received by multiple gateways. When a message is sent, it does not target a specific gateway but broadcasts to all gateways within range. This negates the need for handover as the device does not need to switch between gateways; instead, all gateways in range receive the message.

Adaptive Data Rate (ADR): LoRaWAN uses an Adaptive Data Rate (ADR) to optimize data transmission based on the device’s location and movement. If a device is stationary or moves within the coverage area of the same set of gateways, the ADR algorithm can optimize the data rate, power, and transmission settings to increase the device’s battery life and network capacity.

Network Roaming: While not exactly cell handover, LoRaWAN does support network roaming. This allows a device to connect to a different network while moving, for instance, across different countries or regions. However, this is on the network level, not on the individual gateway or cell level.

In summary, LoRaWAN’s cell handover capabilities are inherently different from cellular networks due to its unique architecture. It does not require handover because each device communicates with multiple gateways simultaneously. However, it does have mechanisms in place to optimize communication and support movement on a network level.

How is Signal Strength Measured & What is its Role in Handover Decisions?

Signal strength is typically measured in decibels (dBm). Decibels are a logarithmic unit used to express the ratio of a signal’s power to a reference power level. In the case of signal strength, the reference power level is usually 1 milliwatt (mW).

The dBm scale is used because it provides a convenient way to represent a wide range of power levels. It allows for both positive and negative values, with positive values indicating stronger signals and negative values indicating weaker signals.

For example, a signal strength of -70 dBm is considered stronger than a signal strength of -90 dBm. The higher the positive value or the closer it is to 0 dBm, the stronger the signal. Conversely, the lower the negative value, the weaker the signal.

Signal strength measurements in dBm are commonly used in wireless communication systems, such as cellular networks, Wi-Fi networks, and Bluetooth. They provide a standardized and consistent way to quantify and compare signal strength across different devices and technologies.

Signal strength represents the power level of the signal received from the base station in handover decisions. It is a measure of the radio frequency (RF) signal power at the receiver antenna of the device. The signal strength is typically measured in decibels (dBm) and indicates the intensity or magnitude of the signal.

In handover decisions, signal strength is an important parameter because it helps determine the proximity of the device to the base station. When a device is connected to a particular cell in a cellular network, it continuously measures the signal strength of that cell. If the signal strength falls below a certain threshold, it indicates that the device is moving away from the current cell and getting closer to neighbouring cells.

When the signal strength drops below the threshold, the handover process is triggered to transfer the connection from the current cell to a neighbouring cell with a stronger signal. This ensures that the device maintains a reliable and stable connection as it moves throughout the network.

Signal strength is a critical factor in handover decisions because it directly influences the quality of the connection. A strong signal strength indicates a good connection with minimal interference or attenuation, resulting in better call quality, faster data rates, and improved overall user experience. On the other hand, a weak signal strength may lead to dropped calls, slow data speeds, and reduced network performance.

It is important to note that signal strength alone may not be the sole criterion for handover decisions. Other factors such as signal quality, data rate, load balancing, and mobility management algorithms are also considered to ensure seamless handovers and optimal network performance.

Experts in Mobile Connectivity Technologies

When it comes to mobile connectivity technologies, we are the go-to expert in the industry. With our wealth of experience and knowledge, we provide high-quality solutions and advice for businesses looking to stay connected on the go. Whether it’s implementing cutting-edge IoT mobile network solutions or enhancing existing systems, Caburn Telecom has the expertise to deliver efficient and reliable solutions. Trust in Caburn Telecom to take your mobile IoT connectivity to the next level.