AT&T is jumping on the narrowband IoT (NB-IoT) bandwagon. The company will launch the technology in the U.S. in early 2019 and then expand it to Mexico by year-end. The NB-IoT network will complement the operator’s existing nationwide LTE-M IoT network.
Perhaps competitive pressure altered that strategy. Rivals T-Mobile and Verizon have both said that they will support NB-IoT. Verizon said it will launch the technology throughout its network this year, and T-Mobile has said it will deploy NB-IoT throughout its network by mid-year. Sprint is in the midst of deploying an LTE-M network.
David Allen, director of IoT products at AT&T, told SDxCentral that the company will use the same deployment strategy with NB-IoT that is used with LTE-M. That means it will upgrade its network in a few markets and conduct some pilots of the technology with a few key customers before deploying it nationwide.
Allen also said that the reason behind AT&T’s decision to deploy NB-IoT is that it has seen growing momentum for NB-IoT around the globe and that some of its global IoT customers are asking for the technology.
LTE-M technology is part of the 3GPP standard and uses licensed technology. It can support speeds up to 386 kb/s. NB-IoT is also a 3GPP standards-based technology, but it supports speeds of 100 kb/s or lower. NB-IoT is often deployed in the guard band spectrum (the unused portion of the spectrum between radio bands) so it doesn’t share the spectrum resources.
Allen said that AT&T is evaluating deploying NB-IoT in the guard band as well as in its regular spectrum band but that it thinks the guard band deployment makes more sense. “That would be the preferred path for us to take,” Allen said.
He added that certain applications, such as sensor monitoring, will be better suited for NB-IoT because they require very low bandwidth, and other applications such as VoLTE are better suited for LTE-M.
Dual-mode NB-IoT and LTE-M modules will be available when AT&T launches its NB-IoT network, Allen said. That means that customers will be able to use devices that support both networks.
Earlier this month two European operators, Deutsche Telekom (DT) and Vodafone, completed an international roaming trial of NB-IoT. The trial paved the way for customers to be able to roam on other operator networks.