AT&T is moving forward with LTE future for its cellular Internet of Things (IoT) applications, despite earlier suggestions that the network operator could consider other low-power, wide-area (LPWAN) specifications. The LTE only decision is consistent with AT&T’s existing LTE based IoT platform, which we described in an earlier article:
AT&T claims to have the largest share of the connected device market with 19.8M IoT devices or 47% of the U.S. total IoT market in 2013. There are GSM location tracking capabilities in over 100 countries with roaming access in more than 200 countries.
AT&T is a founding member of the Industrial Internet Consortium where over 100 companies are now involved. As part of that effort:
- IBM and AT&T are collorating on IoT solutions for cities, institutions, and enterprises.
- GE and AT&T are working on remotely controlled industrial machines.
“I think the decision that we have made as a company is that AT&T is going to standardize on the LTE stack as opposed to unlicensed bands,” Mobeen Khan, AVP of AT&T IoT Solutions, at AT&T Mobile and Business Solutions, told Light Reading Wednesday, June 22nd. AT&T has “many reasons” for the decision: The specialized IoT LTE technologies uses AT&T’s existing spectrum; it’s more secure and can be managed using existing infrastructure. “It has a lot of benefits for our customers,” Khan said.
AT&T is going to standardize on Cat-M1 (a.k.a. LTE-M) for devices like smart meters and wearables. Cat-M1 is optimized to offer a 1Mbit/s connection but with superior battery life compared to the typical 4G smartphone radio chipset. The operator has just approved its first modules for this specification. There will be trials in the forth quarter.
For even lower-power applications, AT&T will use Cat-M2 (a.k.a. Narrowband-IoT) modules in units like smoke detectors and networked monitors. Cat-M2 is “still being specced out” but is anticipated to go to kilobits-per-second connection rates to further extend battery life, Khan said. AT&T will test Cat-M2 devices on the network in 2017 and hopes to go commercial early in 2018.
This doesn’t mean that AT&T won’t support any other types of networking for IoT. WiFi, Bluetooth and mesh networking will all be part of the mix. “We’re living in a multi-network world,” Khan said.
AT&T and other leading telcos are highlighting the security advantages of using cellular networks in licensed spectrum to connect IoT devices. They point to the benefits of having a SIM card authenticate the device on the network, such as being able to remotely bar devices, where necessary. Without a secure link, IoT applications may be more vulnerable to attacks, such as spoofing, where a fraudulent end device injects false data into the network or a fraudulent access point hijacks the data captured by a device.