U.S. Cellular boasts LTE-M network for enhanced IoT capabilities

IoT network
U.S. Cellular is also actively exploring opportunities for NB-IoT, and is in the process of developing deployment plans. (Pixabay)

U.S. Cellular has launched an LTE-M network across more than 90% of its cell sites as the carrier aims to expand current IoT capabilities.

The nation’s fifth-largest carrier said it aims to extend the network to 100% of cell sites in the second quarter of 2020.  

U.S. Cellular already offers IoT solutions on its current 3G and 4G networks, and the LTE-M launch is meant to improve existing network capabilities, particularly for current and new business and government customers.  

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“Our LTE-M network brings our business and government customers capabilities and features that will enable an entirely new set of use cases to help them improve their operations and grow their business,” said Jim Anetsberger, vice president of business sales at U.S. Cellular, in a statement. “We want to set our IoT customers up for future success with solutions that are designed to meet their specific needs. Working together with our vendors and customers, we can unleash the potential of our LTE-M network.”

The company said LTE-M’s low-power wide area network (LPWAN) technology delivers extended coverage in a more cost-effective way. It’s built on wireless standards developed by the 3GPP to enable a range of IoT uses and devices. LTE-M devices that require low power or are battery-limited can be less expensive and complex, and built for large-scale deployments. U.S. Cellular said these features make LTE-M attractive for applications like fleet and asset management, tank monitoring, and smart meters, among others. It’s also positioning the network as a reliable, secure and cost-effective way for connecting large amounts of IoT devices across urban, rural, and hard-to-reach environments.

LTE-M modules currently supported by U.S. Cellular’s network include the Telit ME910C1-WW and ME910C1-NA, Quectel BG96 and u-blox SARA-R410M.

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In 2018, U.S. Cellular partnered with Internet of Things America to offer smart agriculture IoT services using CDMA or LTE connectivity and leaning on LoRa technology. A company spokesperson said the carrier continues to offer IoT services with IoT America using that technology, and it does not anticipate any immediate change to the strategy due to the LTE-M launch.

“The launch of our LTE-M network is going to help us deliver a variety of solutions for existing and potential use cases. We’ll continue to look for ways to enable capabilities to solve problems by using IoT and other U.S. Cellular business solutions,” the spokesperson added.

U.S. Cellular isn’t sharing information yet about who its IoT customers are.  

Major U.S. carriers have already deployed LTE-M networks, including AT&T, Sprint and Verizon. They’ve also worked to launch narrowband IoT (NB-IoT) networks, with T-Mobile’s going live first in July 2018. AT&T officially turned on its nationwide NB-IoT network last April. 

The U.S. Cellular spokesperson said the carrier is actively exploring the NB-IoT opportunity, and is in the process of developing deployment plans.  

Unlike NB-IoT, LTE-M is capable of supporting voice services, a feature Verizon added to its LTE-M offering more than a year after launching its network.  NB-IoT networks operate in the guard band, essentially sitting alongside LTE networks, while LTE-M operates in-band.