AT&T lights up LTE M, promises 7x improvement in coverage, modules at low as $5

AT&T outlined LTE M and NB-IoT speeds in a recent white paper.

AT&T said it enabled LTE-M network technology on its first site in San Francisco to support its pilot of the technology at the AT&T Labs in San Ramon. AT&T plans to make the technology “widely available” across its footprint throughout next year.

"We've joined with Altair, Ericsson and technology leaders from across the ecosystem to launch the first LTE-M enabled commercial site in North America," said Chris Penrose, president of AT&T’s Internet of Things Solutions, in a release. "Innovations like LTE-M will bring IoT to more end points than ever before. It's part of our strategy to offer the widest range of IoT network options to our customers."

RELATED: Verizon vows to launch LTE Cat M1 for the IoT this year

AT&T said it teamed with a range of vendors for the pilot including Altair, Ericsson, Qualcomm Technologies, Sierra Wireless, Telit, u-blox, Wistron and others.

Interestingly, AT&T also discussed how the technology will be used in the pilot. Specifically, Badger Meter will use LTE-M to see how it might improve communications for smart water devices. CalAmp will test how it might help companies more efficiently manage their connected vehicles and assets. And PepsiCo will see how LTE M sensors can improve the “in-store experience with smart vending solutions for the thousands of PepsiCo products consumers love and enjoy.”

In a white paper associated with the pilot, AT&T also offered some details on how the technology might perform. Specifically, the carrier promised that the “coverage extension” feature of LTE M and NB-IoT would offer seven times better coverage than traditional cellular networks. “This includes improved connectivity within subterranean locations like basements and parking structures which makes LPWA ideal for water meters, electric meters, alarm panels, and similar installations,” the carrier noted.

AT&T also said that batteries for LTE M devices could last up to 10 years, and that models would cost $5 to $10 each. AT&T added that LTE M network speeds could go up to 100 Kbps, while NB-IoT speeds could go up to 10 Kbps.

AT&T also touted its satellite backup options for customers who might need connections outside of LTE M’s range. AT&T in April announced it would partner with the data management company Globecomm to launch a service linking satellites to its cell network.

AT&T earlier this month announced its LTE M pilot plans. The company also at the time disclosed its IoT pricing plans:

  • 1 GB for $25.00 (valid up to 12 months); includes 500 SMS
  • 3 GB for $60.00 (valid up to 12 months); includes 1000 SMS
  • 5 GB for $100.00 (valid up to 24 months); includes 1500 SMS

Finally, and not surprisingly, AT&T made sure to separate its IoT LTE M service from similar, unlicensed offerings from the likes of Senet, Sigfox and others that operate LPWAN (low-power, wide-area networks) on unlicensed spectrum. “Unlicensed LPWA technologies use publicly available, open spectrum. Wi-Fi routers, cordless telephones, and other communication devices also access unlicensed spectrum, which can cause interference, thereby degrading performance,” AT&T said. “There are several competing LPWA solutions within unlicensed spectrum. It is unclear which of these will survive in the long run.”