T-Mobile to build nationwide NB-IoT network and LTE Cat-M network in 2018

T-Mobile details its NB-IoT buildout plans. (T-Mobile)

T-Mobile confirmed it will build a nationwide NB-IoT network next year, and that it will begin testing the technology next month in Las Vegas. The operator added that its first NB-IoT modules will come from Sierra Wireless, Telit and u-blox, and will be available early next year.

Interestingly, T-Mobile also said it will build an LTE Cat-M network next year. “T-Mobile confirmed the Un-carrier network will also support Cat-M—another IoT standard for solutions requiring voice support—in 2018,” the operator said in a release.

The Wall Street Journal reported that T-Mobile’s NB-IoT tests in Las Vegas will focus on devices like air quality sensors and streetlights linked to the internet through the new network. However, the publication noted that Las Vegas is not paying T-Mobile for service and that most of its NB-IoT devices are being supplied by the device vendors for testing.

T-Mobile said its IoT efforts will be bolstered by its purchase of significant 600 MHz spectrum licenses in the FCC’s recently completed incentive auction of TV broadcasters’ unwanted airwaves. T-Mobile executives also argued that its rivals Verizon and AT&T are currently focused on millimeter-wave spectrum that isn’t suited to the IoT.

“While AT&T and Verizon are focused on high-band spectrum use cases in fixed locations and urban areas, T-Mobile’s 600 MHz 5G network will deliver increased radio efficiency, immense numbers of connected devices, lower latency and improved battery life and reliability, all of which nationwide 5G will make possible,” T-Mobile wrote in its release.

T-Mobile’s NB-IoT announcement doesn’t come as much of a surprise. The nation’s third-largest carrier in July completed what it called “the continent’s first live network tests” of LTE-based NB-IoT technology along with Qualcomm and Ericsson across multiple sites on its network in Las Vegas using 200 KHz of its AWS spectrum. And T-Mobile at that time unveiled its partnership with Las Vegas to deploy IoT services.

While T-Mobile has focused on NB-IoT, its rivals Verizon and AT&T earlier this year took the wraps off their own nationwide LTE M networks. LTE M is a tweak of the LTE network standard geared toward providing slower-speed connections to millions of IoT devices. LTE M provides slightly faster speeds than the newer NB-IoT standard, and it provides voice services too, whereas NB-IoT does not.

Further complicating the market, Verizon this week confirmed to FierceWireless that it would begin testing NB-IoT network technology next year, with an eye toward deploying the technology sometime after that.

LTE M and NB-IoT are both software upgrades to existing LTE networks and do not require any new physical hardware on carrier cell towers.

In conjunction with its NB-IoT announcement, T-Mobile also expanded its SyncUP product family with the release of its SyncUP FLEET, a new fleet management solution for businesses. T-Mobile introduced SyncUp Drive—which plugs into a car’s ODB-II (on-board diagnostics) port to analyze driving behavior, provide maintenance reminders, track location and monitor other connected vehicles—late last year.