The carrier, which claims to be the world’s seventh largest provider of IoT devices, is partnering with Ericsson on the deployment. Sprint said the LTE Cat 1 network will support low-power applications such as telematics and industrial IoT applications.
“We’re making great progress on our roadmap in support of the evolution of the IoT standards and access technology,” said Mohamad Nasser, GM of Sprint’s IoT Business Unit, in a statement. “IoT, along with wireless and wireline, is one of the three critical business lines for the Sprint Business portfolio. We are investing effort and capital to make sure that Sprint is well positioned to capitalize on the incredible growth that IoT will experience globally.”
That investment will see the carrier move from LTE Cat 1 to LTE Cat M technology, which limits throughputs in the name of better battery life, beginning in mid-2018, and onto LTE Cat NB1, also known as narrowband LTE. The advanced technologies are targeted at industrial sensors, asset tracking, and wearables.
Despite the new emphasis on its LTE network, Sprint said all of its current connections run across its legacy CDMA 3G network, which the carrier plans to continue to support through 2023.
Sprint has linked its recent control and user plane separation for packet optimization (C3PO) initiative in support of its IoT plans. C3PO is being open-sourced.
“As operators scale IoT, low-cost solutions will be vital to drive viable economics when connected devices grow to 10’s and 100’s of billions in number,” said Ron Marquardt, VP of technology at Sprint, in a blog post. “We believe a commercial version of C3PO to be a potential solution well-targeted for low-cost, large-scale applications such as this.”
Plenty of others are working on IoT open source projects, as well. The Linux Foundation last month launched its EdgeX Foundry open source group with a focus on standardizing industrial IoT edge computing.
Nearly 50 companies, including Dell, Cumulocity, and VMware, have joined EdgeX Foundry as initial members. The group’s software and products include a marketplace, offering interoperable IoT components designed to run on any hardware or operating system, and with any combination of application environments.
Growing IoT Network Crowd
Verizon in late March said it had launched LTE Cat-M support across more than 2.4 million square miles of its network. The service ties into the carrier’s ThingSpace IoT Platform and ThingsSpace client.
AT&T has said it is on track to launch LTE-M services in the U.S. by mid-year, and in Mexico by the end of the year. The carrier began trialing the service late last year in San Francisco.
At this year’s Mobile World Congress event, T-Mobile US CTO Neville Ray said the operator will be deploying narrowband LTE (NB-LTE), but did not give a timeline for that deployment.
Analyst firm ABI has predicted that CAT-M technology will see strong growth beginning in 2018 as network operators become more aggressive in their deployments. However, non-cellular low-power wide area networks (LPWAN) like Ingenu and Sigfox are expected to outnumber cellular networks in terms of connections by more than 12 percent by 2021.
Others echoed the sentiment, noting the initial cost advantage of non-cellular networks is likely to dissipate as cellular operators move on their deployments.
“Size and speed matter in the burgeoning LPWAN market,” said Steve Hilton, analyst at MachNation. “The more devices ordered for a technology like Cat 1, the lower the per unit price per device. And most assuredly the success of this market is going to depend on extremely inexpensive devices. In addition, the sooner that LPWAN solutions are available on licensed spectrum from carriers like Sprint, AT&T, and Verizon, the less market opportunity there is for non-dedicated spectrum solutions like Sigfox and Ingenu.”