T-Mobile launches nation’s first service plan for NB-IoT

T-Mobile is betting heavily on NB-IoT as it takes on its rivals in the internet of things. (Pixabay)

T-Mobile launched what it said is the nation’s first narrowband-IoT (NB-IoT) service plan for customers looking to provide connectivity to a range of devices.

And the move once again highlights the difference in IoT strategy between T-Mobile on one hand and its two bigger rivals on the other.

The offering enables T-Mobile users to access its NB-IoT offering for $6 a year for up to 12 MB per connected device, roughly one-tenth the cost of Verizon’s Cat-M plans, the carrier said.

“NB-IoT is much more affordable than Cat-M and is already the globally-preferred standard to power the rapidly expanding world of IoT applications,” T-Mobile said in its announcement. “Because it can operate in guard bands—the network equivalent of driving down the shoulders on the highway—NB-IoT carries data with greater efficiency and performance and doesn’t compete with other data traffic for network resources.”

NB-IoT, which is being rolled out by operators mainly in Europe and Asia, is a low power wide area network technology that also offers advantages over GSM/GPRS. Both are part of the Release 13 standard.

Last July, T-Mobile announced it had completed what it called “the continent’s first live network tests” of LTE-based NB-IoT technology along with Qualcomm and Ericsson across multiple sites on its network in Las Vegas using 200 KHz of its AWS spectrum.

While T-Mobile is betting on NB-IoT to tap the promising IoT market, both Verizon and AT&T are pursuing LTE-M offerings to gain traction in the segment’s early days. AT&T in May announced the launch of its LTE-M network nationwide and said it planned to deploy LTE-M across Mexico by the end of last year, creating a an LTE-M footprint covering 400 million people. Verizon had unveiled the launch of its nationwide LTE Cat M1 network two months earlier.

None of those carriers is going all-in on one technology or the other, of course—T-Mobile said it expects to launch Cat-M nationwide after it lights up NB-IoT across the country by the middle of this year, and both Verizon and AT&T continue to tinker with NB-IoT—but the strategic differences are crystal clear.

And T-Mobile isn’t shy in discussing why it is betting heavily on NB-IoT.

“T-Mobile’s new NB-IoT plan lights up new capabilities to connect massive numbers of devices with small and steady streams of data at low cost,“ the operator said. “NB-IoT is much more affordable than Cat-M and is already the globally-preferred standard to power the rapidly expanding world of IoT applications. Because it can operate in guard bands—the network equivalent of driving down the shoulders on the highway—NB-IoT carries data with greater efficiency and performance and doesn’t compete with other data traffic for network resources.“

Meanwhile, a forecast released by Mobile Experts today predicted that NB-IoT will claim 57% of cellular IoT shipments by 2022 as demand for cheaper, lower-powered services and devices ramps up. And while 5G IoT offerings are likely to gain ground in some niche markets, the overall market for 5G IoT will remain small as the broader internet of things picks up steam.

"Over the next few years, low-cost IoT devices will grow rapidly enough to drive an entirely new ecosystem of suppliers and devices," said chief analyst Joe Madden in a press release. "Connectivity will shift from GPRS or LTE Cat-4 to Cat-M or NB-IoT, with much longer battery life and more affordable devices.   Our deep-dive research in key vertical markets has highlighted the specific business models and applications where the new C-IoT applications will grow."