AT&T said it has officially turned on its narrowband internet of things (NB-IoT) network after completing upgrades to its 4G LTE cell sites across the country.
With the arrival of the NB-IoT network, AT&T now offers business customers two low-power wide area networks (LPWANs) designed for IoT. “Both networks are designed for the IoT within licensed spectrum and provide carrier-grade security,” Chris Penrose, president of IoT Solutions at AT&T Business, in a blog post announcing the launch. “Having both networks offers our business customers more options to implement IoT solutions with security, interoperability, and lower costs.”
AT&T launched its nationwide LTE-M network in May 2017 for IoT while it mulled over launching an NB-IoT network. The company at the time believed that LTE-M was the preferred IoT network technology because it offers two-way communication, greater capacity for throughput, and could handle voice.
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Analysts expect NB-IoT to eventually be the dominant cellular standard for IoT devices, but say there is room for many forms of low power connectivity because a wide variety of devices will ultimately be connected.
In June 2018, AT&T announced it would join the fray and committed to launch its own NB-IoT network to operate alongside its LTE-M network. At the time, AT&T’s David Allen said the company views the two technologies as complementary to one another.
“NB-IoT is optimized for stationary use cases with basic data requirements like simple sensors, on-off buttons, smart agriculture, smoke detectors, door locks and industrial monitors,” Penrose said in the blog post. “LTE-M, with its greater bandwidth, can support firmware and software updates, mobility and voice-over services.”
He added that AT&T has deployed pet trackers, asset management, medical wearables, and utility meters so far over LTE-M.
Penrose said AT&T is working with suppliers to certify $5 modules that can connect devices to the NB-IoT network. He also said that multi-mode modules that support both NB-IoT and LTE-M “are not far behind.”