AT&T last week said that it has completed deployment of its Long Term Evolution category M1 (LTE-M) network. The carrier, which said that the deployment was completed ahead of schedule, said that it will extend across Mexico by the end of the year. At that point, it will cover about 400 million people.
The Internet of Things (IoT) requires telecommunications networks that support low-cost sensors and related equipment. The nature of the IoT requires that the support be inexpensive on a per-device basis and use very little or even no power, due to the inaccessibility of many of the devices. AT&T’s LTE-M network features modules with 10-year battery life and, when compared to existing LTE networks, better subterranean and deep building coverage and far smaller modules. The press release offers information about module costs and data rates.
Enabling IoT devices to communicate in an efficient and cost-effective manner is a make-or-break issue for the IoT. LTE-M is one of a confusing array of options. IoT for All’s Yitaek Hwang offers as simple as possible an overview of this complex IoT landscape. Low-power, wide-area network (LPWAN) candidates include SigFox, LoRa and Weightless. Cellular IoT entrants include LTE Cat-1, LTE Cat-0, Narrow Band (NB)-IoT/Cat-M2, Cat-M1/Cat-M/LTE-M, enhanced Machine-Type Communication (eMTC) and Extended Coverage-Global System for Mobile Communications IoT (EC-GSM-IoT).
It is as complex as it sounds. The differences between the candidates are technical, based on the use case being targeted and stage of development. It is likely that political positioning between various powerful ecosystems that see an advantage in the standardization of their proprietary approach will play an important role.
A sense of the scramble to set IoT standards can be gained from a piece earlier this month at Light Reading; NB-IoT was introduced with great fanfare but has encountered problems. Meanwhile, LTE-M – the technology AT&T is using – rose to prominence:
The momentum behind LTE-M is undeniable. As expected, both AT&T Inc.(NYSE: T) and Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE: VZ) are backing it in the US. More surprising is the support that LTE-M has gained in Europe in the last year. Although NB-IoT is favored by industry giants including Germany's Deutsche Telekom AG (NYSE: DT) and UK-based Vodafone Group plc (NYSE: VOD), several big operators have swung behind LTE-M, including France's Orange (NYSE: FTE), Spain's Telefónica and KPN Telecom NV (NYSE: KPN) of the Netherlands.
The situation is reminiscent of the old engineers’ line: “Why have one standard when you can have a dozen?” The point, of course, is that using more than one standard in essence means that there are none. At the end of the day, settling on one standard or finding a way for networks that use different standards to work together seamlessly is a very important challenge that has not yet been met.
Carl Weinschenk covers telecom for IT Business Edge. He writes about wireless technology, disaster recovery/business continuity, cellular services, the Internet of Things, machine-to-machine communications and other emerging technologies and platforms. He also covers net neutrality and related regulatory issues. Weinschenk has written about the phone companies, cable operators and related companies for decades and is senior editor of Broadband Technology Report. He can be reached at email@example.com and via twitter at @DailyMusicBrk.