Verizon, China Unicom get on Cat M1 VoLTE bandwagon with Ericsson, Qualcomm

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Verizon says it's paving the way for new types of IoT applications and services by providing VoLTE on a production LTE Cat M1 network.

About the same time Verizon announced that its LTE network carried a live over-the-air LTE Cat M1 VoLTE call with Ericsson and Qualcomm, the two vendors were demonstrating VoLTE Cat M1 use cases at Mobile World Congress Shanghai 2017 with China Unicom.

Verizon’s trial used Ericsson’s commercial network infrastructure deployed on the Verizon network and incorporated the Qualcomm MDM9206 global multimode LTE modem, which supports LTE Cat M1 with VoLTE, Cat NB-1 and E-GPRS. The same Qualcomm modem model was part of China Unicom’s demonstration in Shanghai, which also used Ericsson’s IoT and VoLTE infrastructure.

China Unicom, Ericsson and Qualcomm previously reported completion of an end-to-end data call using Cat M1 technology in Beijing last December.

Verizon claimed the title of being the first operator in the U.S. to deploy Cat M1 nationwide in March of this year and the first to launch a commercial Cat M1 network last year. Rival AT&T has since launched its own Cat M1 nationwide network in the U.S., with plans to cover Mexico as well by the end of this year.

Sprint plans to complete its deployment of LTE Cat 1 technology across its nationwide network by the end of July 2017 and will begin deploying LTE Cat M in mid-2018 followed by LTE Cat NB1. T-Mobile plans to support NB-IoT from 2018 onward, according to parent Deutsche Telekom.

Adding VoLTE to the mix offers operators the ability to add new types of IoT applications and services. The China Unicom demonstrations featured a fire alarm trigger panel and a GPS emergency tracking device. The companies say adding VoLTE support to Cat M1 ensures devices based on the technology have the ability to make voice calls.

Cat M1 is a 3GPP-based technology that is deployed on licensed spectrum, owned and operated by one entity, which, according to Verizon, means IoT traffic traverses a more secure network. Plenty of other technologies use unlicensed spectrum, and those operators also boast similar use cases as cellular-based IoT services.

Interestingly, China Mobile may have no choice but to launch NB-Iot on its 2G GSM network, according to a research note distributed by Jefferies analysts. The Ministry of Industry and Information Technology in China decided to support NB-IoT as the standard for all low-power, wide-area IoT services, although alternative technologies such as LoRa and Sigfox also exist in China.

The analysts estimated that 30% to 40% of the exhibition space at the Mobile World Congress in Shanghai was devoted to IoT and cloud, with another 30% to 40% devoted to 5G. Equipment vendors, telcos, systems integrators, software companies and the like are all over cloud-based IoT initiatives, with most of them smart city-related government projects, such as traffic control, smart parking, air-quality control, water-quality monitoring and weather monitoring.