AT&T says it is satisfied with the quality of its LTE-M (also known as LTE CAT-M) Internet of Things (IoT) network technology and will continue to support the LTE-M ecosystem. And while it plans to keep an eye on narrowband-LTE (NB-LTE) IoT technology, the operator has no plans to deploy it, at least for now.
AT&T’s commitment to LTE-M comes at a time when rivals T-Mobile and Verizon have both announced their support for NB-IoT. LTE-M technology is part of the 3GPP standard and uses licensed spectrum. NB-IoT technology is also a 3GPP standards-based technology, but it coexists with 3G and 4G cellular networks and doesn’t share the spectrum resources. Instead, it operates outside the LTE network. Some analysts believe this gives NB-IoT an advantage because it does not use capacity from the existing LTE network. However, NB-IoT speeds are about one-third of that of LTE-M.
Verizon has announced that it will deploy a NB-IoT network across its entire footprint this year. The company said that its NB-IoT technology will occupy a dedicated frequency of 180 kHz bandwidth designated for IoT applications. T-Mobile has also said it plans to launch a nationwide NB-IoT network by mid-year. T-Mobile’s NB-IoT network will be deployed in the guard bands, which is the unused spectrum between radio bands that is set up to prevent interference.
In an interview with SDxCentral at the Mobile World Congress 2018 conference late last month, Mike Troiano, vice president of Internet of Things solutions at AT&T, said that the company believes there are a “tremendous number of use cases for LTE-M” and added that “there is no reason to give up on the technology.”
AT&T announced last May that its LTE-M network was available nationwide and at year-end 2017 it had extended its LTE-M footprint into Mexico giving it a footprint that now covers 400 million people.
More Than Connectivity
Troiano said that at the end of fourth quarter 2017 the company had 38 million cellular IoT-enabled devices on its network, and 18 million of those were connected cars. But Troiano emphasized that AT&T is selling much more than just connectivity. “That [connectivity] is our core business, but the portfolio is robust enough that if you want developer tools, we can do that too,” he said.
The company is in the process of combining its two flagship IoT platforms: AT&T M2X is a cloud-based data store for developers, and Flow Designer is an IoT development tool, into AT&T Data Flow. Troiano said the company has been investing in these tools and now Data Flow can be deployed with third party cloud providers. Data Flow provides cloud-based development tools and can help businesses manage the flow of sensor data between IoT devices and business applications. Data Flow is currently available for preview and is expected to be commercially available to customers in second quarter.