AT&T: No need to wait on IoT, LTE-M is right around the corner

AT&T made a point to showcase its bevy of IoT offerings at the CTIA Super Mobility 2016 show last month.

Considering what’s at stake in the Internet of Things (IoT) and the myriad technologies available, it’s no wonder a lot of would-be users are trying to figure out the best tech for them. That’s part of the reason AT&T recently published a white paper (PDF) that examined IoT technologies, including cellular, low power wide area (LPWA) and satellite, with factors for companies to consider when they’re making their decisions.

Several LPWA technologies – think Ingenu, Sigfox and LoRa, to name a few – that are trying to build out their own networks are enjoying a leg up on the competition. That’s because the IoT tech from cellular operators that use licensed spectrum are still being tested and deployed. But Steve Manenti, director of Product Management, IoT Solutions at AT&T, said there’s no reason for clients or potential customers to wait – LTE-M is right around the corner.

“Our message to the market is, there’s no reason to wait in making that investment decision around which kind of technology you may be after. LTE-M is going to be here,” he told FierceWirelessTech. AT&T plans to conduct a pilot of an LTE-M network in the San Francisco market starting in November and it will launch the technology across its commercial LTE network in 2017.

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According to AT&T, choosing the right network requires six primary considerations: Coverage, throughput, mobility, latency, battery life and cost. LTE-M is likely to serve things like asset trackers, telematics, smart watches, pet trackers, fitness bands and point-of-sale terminals.

Manenti said LTE-M brings the benefits of low power, great battery life and improved coverage, in addition to security, and it supports complex use cases. “It’s a great ‘built for IoT’ kind of a network solution,” he said.

AT&T is of the mind that one network is not enough in serving the IoT market. That’s why it’s touting its multi-network strategy and ability to operate as a one-stop shop. LPWA might suit some, but it’s also got satellite and dual-mode cellular/satellite connectivity if that’s what fits the bill.

“There’s a lot of buzz and a lot of noise around this space, and in particular in the low power space, and we felt that as key decision makers at the enterprise level or at the developer level who are out making investment decisions around what technologies they should be investing in, we wanted to be able to help them understand the full portfolio of offerings that are out there,“ Manenti said.

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In Hannover, Germany, last April, AT&T announced it teamed with Globecomm to launch a new service that allows satellite connectivity to work in conjunction with its cellular network. It allows IoT devices to operate on cellular when a signal is available, and then automatically switches to satellite when cell service is unavailable. Asset tracking and monitoring applications, for example, might benefit from a dual-mode solution when moving between remote and more populated areas.

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Manenti said there are inherent advantages in LTE-M from a mobility perspective, and “we don’t have to build a network from the ground up, we can leverage our existing infrastructure.” LTE-M also supports VoLTE, so if a voice component is necessary, such as for an alarm panel, it’s there. It can also serve the fixed market, but it’s more likely that the Narrowband IoT standard will better serve applications that have low bandwidth requirements like smoke detectors, electric meters and industrial monitors.