AT&T is working with vendors on a strategy to enable IoT modules to power smaller, less costly and more energy-efficient devices.
The operator announced a relationship with Giesecke+Devrient Mobile Security (G+D), which is collaborating with Altair Semiconductor, to integrate a SIM into the modem chipset for deployment across licensed low-power wide-area (LPWA) cellular networks.
Currently, manufacturers buy subscriber identity module (SIM) cards for IoT devices, and the SIMs securely identify and authenticate the subscriber for the mobile network.
That model changes in the integrated SIM approach. The integrated SIM securely embeds SIM functionality into the chipset, processor and other module components. Such an all-in-one approach will enable modules to power smaller, less expensive and more efficient IoT devices—all with the same carrier-grade security of a physical SIM, according to AT&T.
Of course, traditional SIMs will still be in use for years, but AT&T said it expects the integrated SIM will make it easier for large-scale global deployments of low-cost asset trackers, smart sensors and more over LPWANs designed for the IoT.
Expectations call for the integrated SIM, which will be compatible with AT&T’s LTE-M network, to be commercially available in the first half of 2019.
Catering to that global reach is also part of why AT&T decided to deploy Narrowband IoT (NB-IoT). AT&T launched LTE-M last year and didn’t immediately decide to launch NB-IoT—it waited to gauge customer demand. Earlier this year, AT&T said it will deploy NB-IoT, which should be completed in the first half of 2019, with Mexico getting the technology by the end of the year.
Many of AT&T’s customers are global, which means the company may deploy a solution or service in the U.S. and then want to take it to other countries. Many carriers in those countries have different IoT strategies—some are deploying both licensed and unlicensed technologies and some are going with NB-IoT and/or LTE-M.
With the dual LTE-M and NB-IoT approach, AT&T is able to accommodate those customers. Some use cases will adapt better to LTE-M than to NB-IoT and vice versa, and some use cases will call for both. For a truly global solution that works in 100 countries, for example, you want a device with LTE-M and NB-IoT that falls to whichever network is available in that country, because not every country will have both, according to Mobeen Khan, associate vice president for IoT solutions at AT&T.
Having a global reach is not the only reason AT&T decided to add NB-IoT, he told FierceWirelessTech. There are use cases from a price and functionality perspective that are suited better for one or the other. LTE-M includes voice and it’s good at two-way communications, whereas NB-IoT is more of a one-way communication. There are some data that can come back to the Narrowband device, but if you were going back and forth and exchanging data, LTE-M would be your choice, he said.
Generally speaking, NB-IoT will be cheaper, because from a device module perspective, there’s less capability in it. AT&T has not yet announced service pricing for NB-IoT when it becomes available, but it’s quite possible it will be cheaper from that perspective.
AT&T continues to cater to the consumer end of the IoT market as well. This Friday, Samsung’s SmartThings Tracker will be available through select AT&T stores; the tracker will be available through Verizon later this year.