Sprint to Deploy LTE Cat 1 IoT Network by Mid 2017; LTE Cat M & NB1 to follow

Sprint says it will support low cost, low speed and power Internet of Things (IoT) devices by deploying LTE Cat 1 technology throughout its network by the end of July.  Ericsson will provide the network equipment.  Sprint’s announcement was timed to coincide with the IoT World 2017 convention in Santa Clara, California, this week.

The #4 wireless carrier in the US plans to begin deploying LTE Cat M (AKA LTE Cat M1) in mid-2018 followed by LTE Cat NB1. The move is aimed at supporting low-power applications such as telematics and industrial IoT software via Low Power (wireless) WANs (AKA LPWANs).

“We’re making great progress on our road map in support of the evolution of the IoT standards and access technology,” said Mohamad Nasser, GM of Sprint’s IoT Business Unit, in a statement. “IoT, along with wireless and wireline, is one of the three critical business lines for the Sprint Business portfolio. We are investing effort and capital to make sure that Sprint is well positioned to capitalize on the incredible growth that IoT will experience globally.”

“As one of the leading enablers and solution providers of the internet of things, Ericsson believes in its power to transform industries and capture new growth,” said Glenn Laxdal, head of Network Products for Ericsson North America, in the release. “Ericsson looks forward to partnering with Sprint to deploy Cat M1 next year and bring the transformative power of IoT to the Sprint Nationwide network.”

Sprint will move from LTE Cat 1 to LTE Cat M technology (which limits throughput and speed to lengthen IoT device battery life) beginning in mid-2018, and onto LTE Cat NB1, also known as narrowband LTE. The advanced technologies are targeted at IoT devices like industrial sensors, asset tracking, and wearables.

Sprint is the latest US wireless carrier to announce IoT network plans, following recent moves by Verizon, AT&T, and T-Mobile US. Verizon in late March said it had launched LTE Cat-M support across more than 2.4 million square miles of its network. The service ties into the US #1 carrier’s  ThingSpace IoT Platform and ThingsSpace client.

AT&T has said it will launch LTE-M services in the U.S. by mid-year, and in Mexico by the end of the year. The carrier began trialing the service late last year in San Francisco.

At this year’s Mobile World Congress event, T-Mobile US CTO Neville Ray said the operator will be deploying narrow-band LTE (NB-LTE), but did not give a timeline for that deployment.

Analyst firm ABI has predicted that CAT-M technology will see strong growth beginning in 2018 as network operators become more aggressive in their deployments. However, non-cellular low-power wide area networks (LPWAN) like Ingenu and Sigfox are expected to outnumber cellular networks in terms of connections by more than 12% by 2021.

Others echoed the sentiment, noting the initial cost advantage of non-cellular networks is likely to dissipate as cellular operators move on their deployments.

“Size and speed matter in the burgeoning LPWAN market,” said Steve Hilton, analyst at MachNation. “The more devices ordered for a technology like Cat 1, the lower the per unit price per device. And most assuredly the success of this market is going to depend on extremely inexpensive devices. In addition, the sooner that LPWAN solutions are available on licensed spectrum from carriers like Sprint, AT&T, and Verizon, the less market opportunity there is for non-dedicated spectrum solutions like Sigfox and Ingenu.”



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