Verizon launching nationwide LTE Cat M1 network for IoT

Verizon Cat M1
Cat M1 is a new class of LTE chipset designed for sensors. Image: Verizon

It’s no longer about when LTE Category M1 will be widely available. Verizon announced that it will launch the first nationwide commercial 4G LTE Cat M1 network tomorrow.

It’s a game changer, according to the company, representing a new class of LTE chipset designed for sensors running on data plans as low as $2 per month per device, with customized options available for bulk activations and volume purchases.

That's a big deal in the U.S. Internet of Things space, closing the gap where some solutions not based on LTE standards enjoyed an earlier time to market. Companies like Ingenu, Sigfox and those using LoRa-based technology have been able to offer IoT solutions, while products that were in the pipeline to meet LTE standards took longer to bring to market.

But as Mike Lanman, senior vice president of business products and IoT at Verizon put it, “I think it more than closes the gap.”

Because most of those technologies are fledgling, and they might have a few deployments here and there, "when you wake up tomorrow morning, the entire 2.4 million square miles of coverage on the Verizon LTE network will be enabled,” Lanman explained, meaning you don’t have to wait around for long-term deployments “that may or may not happen.”

Sure, there’s a slight premium in a Cat M1 in the chipset, he said, but look at what you get: A secure network using licensed spectrum with a platform already preintegrated with the network and ThingSpace being embedded on the chipsets.  

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ThingSpace is an important component to Verizon’s IoT strategy. “To me, it’s the glue,” Lanman said. ThingSpace is Verizon’s global, web-based IoT platform that enables developers and customers to create new IoT solutions and manage their IoT environments end-to-end from the device to the application level.

The platform removes a lot of complexity for customers. For example, when a Cat M1 LTE chipset is preloaded with ThingSpace on it, there’s no intervention required on the part of the consumer—it automatically registers when it’s turned on.  

Cat M1 is designed for sensors, requiring less power, a longer battery life and support for everything from water meters to asset trackers and consumer electronics.

“It enables a whole array of new use cases,” Lanman said, where the LTE network can be leveraged with all the benefits of a scaled footprint and security policies built into the network. “You’re taking most of the major concerns that have held back the IoT deployments and proliferation and you’re taking them off the table,” he said.

Verizon's Cat M1 partners include Sequans, Telit, U-Blox, Sierra Wireless, Gemalto, Qualcomm Technologies and Altair. Verizon currently offers certified chipsets, modules and devices for Cat M1 from Sequans, Telit, Qualcomm Technologies, Encore Networks, Link Labs and NimbeLink.

Rival AT&T last year switched on what it described as North America’s first LTE-M enabled commercial site for a pilot in its AT&T Labs in San Ramon, California. AT&T also plans to make the technology widely available across its commercial network throughout 2017.