Verizon to launch nationwide LTE Cat M1 wireless network for IoT

On March 31st, Verizon said it will launch a U.S. nationwide Category LTE M1 (Cat M1) wireless network designed to help developers, businesses, utilities and municipalities deploy secure internet-of-things (IoT) devices at lower cost.  The LTE Cat M1 network will span 2.4 million square miles and will be the first of its kind, the company said.   Cat M1 is competing head on with other Low Power Wireless Wide Area Networks (LPWANs) like LoRa, Sigfox, NarrowBand (NB) IoT, Weightless SIG, and various proprietary specs.

“We are very proud to again demonstrate our innovative leadership by providing this commercially available network for our customers, an industry first,” said Mike Haberman, Network Vice President at Verizon. “As the natural shift from CDMA-based IoT solutions to the more robust and cloud-based LTE technology occurs, it’s important we stay ahead of that technology evolution for our customers so we can continue to provide them service on the best and most advanced wireless network. Our commercial deployment of the nationwide LTE Cat M1 network does just that.”


LTE Cat 1 vs other LPWANs:

Many IoT network technologies have been slow to catch on, due to hype and confusion caused by too many alternatives.  As noted above, LTE Cat M1 is a low-power, LPWAN technology that competes most directly with other LPWAN networks like LoRa, Sigfox and NB IoT. Cat M1 and Narrowband run on licensed spectrum, while the others run on unlicensed spectrum which is inherently prone to interference.

Verizon believes Cat M1 will also compete against Bluetooth, ZigBee and Z-Wave, wireless local area network (WLAN) technologies that connect to devices like thermostats and a wide array of appliances, such as washing machines and dryers.

Steve Hilton, an IoT analyst at Machnation thinks Verizon’s Cat M1 and similar networks will be game changers for IoT deployments.  “Cat M1 competes directly with Zigbee, Z-Wave and … Bluetooth,” said Mike Lanman, Verizon senior vice president for IoT, in an interview. He added, however, “there will always be other connecting technologies, and some might make more sense economically.”

Hilton agreed that some companies and utilities might want to deploy a Cat M1  approach and pay Verizon a monthly charge for the wireless service instead of managing a WLAN themselves.

“It really depends on how long the enterprise expects the device to live, how much management control the enterprise wants over the IoT network and relative prices,” Hilton said.

LTE Cat M1 Silicon:

Sequans, Altair Semiconductor, Qualcomm, Telit,  are among the LTE Cat M1 chip makers.

Verizon’s LTE Cat M1 partners include industry leaders including Sequans, Telit, U-Blox, Sierra Wireless, Gemalto, Qualcomm Technologies, and Altair, who together with Verizon are solving for the next generation of IoT use cases. Today, Verizon offers certified chipsets, modules and devices for Cat M1 from Sequans, Telit, Qualcomm Technologies, Encore Networks, Link Labs, and NimbeLink.

Devices running Cat M1, such as water and power meters and asset trackers,  will get longer battery life and can be left unattended for up to a decade, Lanman said. The Cat M1 network will also provide broader and more consistent coverage, reaching areas like basements, and devices that are in-ground or behind walls.

Cat M1 operates at lower bandwidth than 4G LTE, usually between 300Kbps and 400Kbps. Verizon typically provides 4G LTE bandwidth download speeds of 5Mbps to 12Mbps.

Cat M1 would be suitable for wireless connections to devices like water meters that need to send their on-off status or usage readings on an hourly, weekly or monthly basis. It would be unsuitable for connecting to video monitors or devices needing fast video streams, Lanman said.


A Comparison of LPWAN Technologies