From Telit: "Mini PCIe vs. M.2 NGFF: How to Select the Best IoT Data Card Form Factors on the Road to 5G"

Nov 4, 2018

Since the invention of the first laptop in 1981, the Osborne 1, the world has come to appreciate the economy of size and computing hardware that gets smaller and smaller every year. While screens get bigger, computers get slimmer. Form factor designs determine the size and shape of the technology and hardware associated with laptops, cell-phones, and other computing devices.


Almost as rapidly as the size of hardware has shrunk, the speed of transmission has increased exponentially so. Mobile form factor solutions demand that they are small enough and capable enough to meet the challenges of new high-speed wireless communications avenues. Long Term Evolution (LTE) solutions are able to transmit over 1G of data in a single leap, with 4G and 5G connections bringing more devices together than ever before.


By 2020, the amount of devices connected to the internet will outnumber the world’s population with a staggering count of over 20 billion.


In most laptop and industrial designs, you will most likely find one of two competing standards of small-form-factor (SFF) multi-purpose connectors: M.2 and mini Peripheral Component Interconnect Express (mPCIe).


How do you decide which mobile broadband PC card or cellular adapter card to use?


Below, we’ll give you the information you need to select the right IoT data card form factors on the road to 5G.


The Need for Speed and Space with IoT


Mobile users, businesses, and industries across a wide spectrum are looking to the Internet of Things (IoT) for faster connections across multiple devices, more data transmission and downloading capabilities, and innovative solutions that will transform day-to-day operations.


Thankfully, both the worldwide preparation for 5G broadband speedsand business optimization of LTE solutions have paved the speedway of the future by expanding the range of available frequencies and increasing the number of carriers. But speedy services that let users control thermostats from their phones or track fleet shipments through an app can pay a price in real estate and performance. Both M.2 and mPCIe applications are useful and address those issues, depending on how much space one needs and how the cards are utilized within a given industry.


The Many Uses of M.2 and Mini PCIe Explained


What is M.2?

As more devices connect people to the world, technology shrinks to save space. M.2 emerged in late 2012/early 2013 as it evolved from the Next Generation Form Factor (NGFF) internally mounted computer expansion cards. M.2 format cards expanded battery life to between 8-10 hours and left a smaller physical footprint in thinner (Intel-designed) laptops.


Since then, M.2 data cards have become the standard for the majority of consumer-based laptops within the last five years. Smaller than the mPCIe, M.2 cards let users take their work on-the-go with smart tablets and razor-thin portable laptops.


What is mPCIe?

Mini PCIe evolved from the large form factor PCIe in 2002. Initially, mPCIe cards internally plugged into the motherboard to save space in laptops, but their applications have become exponentially greater in industrial applications where real estate isn’t as important as it is in laptops.


While mPCIe tech requires a larger footprint than M.2 does, many network appliances in the enterprise networking market are still using mPCIe as the data card of choice in their products. There’s no need to reconfigure an entire system to M.2 when the mPCIe mobile broadband PC card is already in place and capable of integrating with 4G, 5G, and LTE.


How are M.2 and mPCIe Different? Which is Better?



Depending on the application, M.2 could potentially be a better fit for laptops and personal computing. M.2 SSD supports USB, SATA, and PCIe, and it does more than just store data – it boosts performance and takes up the least amount of space at low power.



The legacy of mPCIe means it is still a very viable form factor, and likely to be a continued choice for industrial use and businesses with routers. Moving into an IoT-heavy work environment, mPCIe offers more real estate and connectivity options.


When it comes to these two ultra-high speed cellular cards for industrial settings, a low-power option like the M.2 is not effective. With new Cat18 technology that can’t be placed into a low-power mode, there are 5 antenna connectors (4 MIMO antennas and one positioning antenna), which require a tiny card consuming a lot of power to work with all those components. Mini PCIe cards offer better consistency and a proven track-record of lower thermal output.


Benefits of mini PCIe include:

  • It is a legacy product that many mobile broadband companies prefer
  • There is more support for PCI connectors
  • Consumes the same amount of power as M.2, but with no thermal dissipation issues
  • Covers both mobile broadband and industrial applications
  • Integrates easier with future Cat 18 technology – with better performance and consumption specs


No matter what you go with, choosing the right data card will depend on your unique application needs.


Where to Find the Best Cellular Broadband Data Card Form Factor Solution


A global leader in IoT innovation, Telit prefers the mini PCIe option when looking forward to cellular and LTE integration on a wide scale. Telit’s LM960 Gigabit Class LTE Cat 18 data card is the world’s first global full-size mPCle available for enterprise cellular routers and appliances. The 23-band card supports LTE Cat 18, has download speeds of up to 1.2Gbps, and features a 5-band fallback to 3G.


In the battle of competing data cards, Telit has chosen the mPCIe as the clear winner, with a wider range of use and a better framework already in play.


For those needing a scaled down solution, Telit also has an M.2 solutionwith an industrial temperature range of -40 to 85° C.


Telit aims to maintain leadership in mobile broadband connectivity to deliver the highest available speeds that cellular networks can support for all our solution providers and integrators.




Looking to integrate Telit products with your design? Our Applications Engineers offer free design and technical help for your latest designs. Contact us today!



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