T-Mobile unveils NB-IoT plans in contrast with Verizon, AT&T

T-Mobile appears to be placing a much higher priority on Narrowband IoT (NB-IoT) than its bigger rivals are.

The nation’s third-largest carrier 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 unveiled a partnership with Las Vegas to deploy IoT services.

“Narrowband IoT is no longer a thing of the distant future—T-Mobile is lighting it up this year,” T-Mobile CTO Neville Ray crowed in the announcement. “By investing in Narrowband IoT now, we’re ensuring our customers will be able to bring their products to market faster with better performance, vastly improved battery life and big cost savings—all on a dedicated highway that’s purpose-built for connected devices.”

NB-IoT, which is being rolled out by operators mainly in Europe and Asia, is a low power wide area network technology that also offers advantages over GSM/GPRS. Both are part of the Release 13 standard.

T-Mobile said it’s working with Las Vegas on trials of IoT projects such as flood abatement, smart city lighting and environmental monitoring. Those tests are being held just off the strip in an area dedicated to developing emerging technologies.

“The Las Vegas Innovation District was created to bring the most exciting emerging technologies right to our doorstep,” said Michael Sherwood, director of technology for the city, in the announcement. “We are excited about partnering with T-Mobile to bring these technologies to the core of our city in a way that will benefit residents and tourists.”

T-Mobile’s moves contrast significantly—if not directly—with the strategies of both Verizon and AT&T. AT&T recently launched its LTE-M IoT network, and has plans to cover Mexico by the end of the year. The operator said in May that it continues to evaluate NB-IoT but has yet to find a compelling reason to deploy the technology.

Meanwhile, Verizon launched the first nationwide commercial 4G LTE Cat M1 network a few months ago, touting its ability to offer IoT services across its entire LTE network. But Verizon is also pursuing NB-IoT more cautiously, saying that it plans to launch the technology “in the near future” with a focus on very light touch sensors requiring battery life, among other devices.

T-Mobile is pursuing both strategies as well: In January it launched IoT Access packs, IoT-specific data plans that package service with Sequans LTE Cat 1 modules.

Finally, Sprint said in May that its deployment of LTE Cat 1 across its nationwide network would be completed by the end of July, and it plans to begin rolling out LTE Cat M by the middle of next year.