AT&T Sees Growth Opportunities in IoT with LTE-M

Oct 12, 2016

Cellular networks are currently the prime wireless wide area network connectivity option for IoT in the United States. However, supporting IoT in a scalable, cost-efficient manner may require a new approach to delivering wireless connectivity solutions. For example, common deployments such as automated gas or water metering generally do not require high bandwidth connections. Instead, their connectivity requirements are best served by technologies that deliver the benefits of longer battery life, extended coverage, and lower cost hardware. This is where low power wide area network (LPWAN) technologies are best suited. LPWAN technologies deliver a variety of benefits including a low cost hardware, longer battery life, and an economical cost of service, which caters to IoT deployments that need a good blend of coverage and value.

LPWAN technologies can operate in licensed as well as unlicensed spectrum. Licensed spectrum LPWAN technologies are deployed in the spectrum holdings of mobile operators, while unlicensed LPWAN technologies can use any of the publicly available open spectrum bands (such as the industrial, scientific and medical, or ISM band).   LTE-M (Cat-M1) and Narrow Band IoT (NB-IoT) are the two leading technologies for LPWAN operations in licensed spectrum. Random Phase Multiple Access or RPMA from Ingenu Inc. is an example of LPWAN technology that operates in the unlicensed spectrum.

AT&T recently announced that it will pilot the LTE-M network in the San Francisco market starting in November and will deploy the technology across its commercial LTE network in 2017. AT&T’s decision to implement a nationwide LTE-M network is part of its multi-network approach focused on offering the widest range of IoT network options to customers. For AT&T, deploying LTE-M is simply a matter of software upgrades to their nationwide LTE network, which means that a nationwide LTE-M network could be available faster than what it would take greenfield deployments. By deploying LTE-M in the licensed spectrum, AT&T will eliminate any potential frequency conflicts that can occur when multiple networks operate together in the unlicensed spectrum.   Other benefits of AT&T’s LTE-M network include carrier-grade security, low cost hardware ($5-$15 range), support for mobility, improved coverage in subterranean locations (due to the coverage extension feature of LTE-M), and wide geographical coverage.  

With its LTE-M announcement, AT&T has once again demonstrated that it is at the forefront of innovation in IoT. The company already has a robust portfolio of IoT solutions, platforms, and services, and the LTE-M network allows AT&T to target a market segment where it could have found itself at a competitive disadvantage. This is not to say that the LTE-M network will be limited to a small set of deployments in the utilities industry. If the current trial is any indicator, LTE-M will likely be used to serve the connectivity needs of a wide variety of IoT solutions including asset monitoring, vending machines, fleet management, security systems,  mHealth and wearables (to name a few). Coverage, cost of service, support capabilities, connectivity management services, and the overall service delivery experience will determine the ability of LPWAN providers to compete effectively in the US LPWAN market.   These are areas where AT&T has traditionally excelled, which suggests the future is certainly bright for the company in IoT.


Vikrant Gandhi

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Fourteen years of product marketing, research, and consulting expertise, which includes supporting clients’ needs through more than 140 syndicated market research deliverables and consulting assignments. Particular expertise in Assessing next-generation telecommunications trends, technologies and market dynamics; Helping clients develop and execute their go-to-market strategies; Providing continuous inputs to clients into new market developments and helping them understand the strategic implications.


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