AT&T’s Coursey: Cellular technologies like LTE can cover the vast majority of IoT needs

AT&T's Cameron Coursey sits third from the right.

LAS VEGAS – As AT&T and other cellular players work to expand their IoT businesses, they’re increasingly facing challenge from the likes of Sigfox, Senet, Ingenu and others that operate non-cellular wireless networks, generally in unlicensed spectrum. But AT&T’s Cameron Coursey argued that cellular network operators will likely dominate the space in the years to come.

“We’re not after the internet of a few things,” Coursey said here during the FierceWireless “Next-gen IoT Networks: Which ones will live and which ones will die” event. Coursey is AT&T’s VP of product development for AT&T's Internet of Things Solutions business.

Coursey explained that IoT services and applications range from low-bandwidth devices that only need to send a few bytes of data per day, to high-bandwidth applications like video surveillance cameras that require a high-speed connection in order to transmit video feeds. “All of these are things the cellular technologies can do,” Coursey said.

Craig Miller, VP of worldwide marketing at chipmaker Sequans, agreed that LTE networks from the likes of AT&T and Verizon are already widespread and established and can support many of the requirements in the IoT space. He added that wireless carriers continue to refine those networks with IoT-focused technologies like LTE M. Such technologies essentially dedicate a slice of carriers’ LTE networks for IoT applications, providing relatively inexpensive devices with longer battery lives, coupled with slower-speed network services.

“These [LTE] networks already exist,” Miller explained.

Not surprisingly, executives from non-cellular players like Sigfox and Ingenu argued that there is a need for other networks and services.

“LTE can support some things,” said John Horn, the CEO of Ingenu, which is building its wireless RPMA network in locations across the globe. The network uses unlicensed spectrum to provide IoT services to cities, oil and gas companies and other industrial applications. Horn said Ingenu’s network is specifically designed to provide services for machines, whereas LTE is designed primarily for people.

Horn added that efforts to tweak LTE for the IoT with new standards will likely meet some customer needs, but that it also adds additional questions and concerns. “You’re complicating things that are already too complicated,” he said.

Michael Orr, VP of sales and partners in North America for Sigfox, said that the IoT market is big enough for all the companies that are working in the arena. “IoT is really, really big," he said. “No one technology sitting here is going to fit all those things.”

“It’s a mistake to think that any one of them will take 90 percent," he added.

Like Ingenu, Sigfox is also building a wireless network in unlicensed spectrum designed for the IoT space.

Mrinalini (Lani) Ingram, VP of smart communities for Verizon, argued that the “pie is big enough for everybody.” The IoT, she said, is “going to require different business models, different technologies.”

Interestingly, Ingenu’s Horn and AT&T’s Coursey took aim directly at each other, with Horn pointing out that AT&T is planning to shut down its 2G network by the end of this year, a situation that could affect the machine-to-machine services that currently use that network. “If you have 2G you’re guaranteed to die,” Horn said.

AT&T’s Coursey countered by asking Horn how old Ingenu is as a company (Horn answered that it was eight years old.) “Is the company going to be around? Is the technology going to be around?” Coursey asked rhetorically. “People need to think about that.”

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