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Sprint certifies LTE Cat 1 modules

Sprint has certified new IoT modules designed to help customers migrate internet of things devices onto the carrier’s LTE network. The carrier currently has 13.4 million connected IoT devices, and about 90% of them use CDMA technology, according to Mo Nasser, general manager of Sprint’s IoT business unit. Nasser said that while CDMA will remain in use until about 2023, many customers may want to move to LTE long before that because the new LTE modules use less power.

“Most of the use cases that we have today for 2G can operate with a Cat 1 very comfortably, so whether it’s the transportation area, fleet management, asset management, whether it’s in the wireless WAN backup, there’s quite a bit … that Cat 1 would fit right into,” Nasser said.

Sprint’s Category 1 LTE network has been deployed nationwide, Nasser said. Cat 1 LTE is a bi-directional protocol that keeps power requirements low by capping upload speeds at 5 megabits per second and download speeds at 10 megabits per second.

The CAT 1 modules certified by Sprint are made by Telit, the same company that makes most of the IoT modules deployed in Sprint’s CDMA network. The LE910C1-NS LTE Cat 1 module uses a Qualcomm modem and has pin-to-pin compatibility with both CDMA and EV-DO versions of Sprint certified xE910 modules.

“It makes it easy to upgrade from 2G to 4G,” said Nasser. “When you have device OEMs trying to upgrade from CDMA to LTE, if you go for a module that has a different pin set, they have to usually redesign the boards, do a little bit more fitting it in, but if you go with the same exact pin set, it’s usually basically plug and then drop.”

The Telit module will sell for roughly $50, according to distributor Symmetry Electronics, who said demand has been strong. Nasser said Telit hoped to sell the modules to some customers for as little as $20 each.

Sprint is currently working to certify two other Cat 1 modules for its network. Nasser said Cat 1 will be a good choice for almost any IoT customer that wants to get off the 2G network.

“I think [for] anybody that is looking to move away from CDMA … Cat 1 should suffice,” said Nasser. “Now I can’t say the same thing about Cat M1 and NB-IoT because they are different modules, different standards.”

LTE Category M1 caps both uplink and downlink speeds at 1 megabit per second, and narrowband IoT has even lower peak data rates. These protocols are meant for devices with very low power requirements. AT&T and Verizon Wireless have already launched Cat M1 networks, and Nasser said Sprint will launch both Cat M1 and NB-IoT during the second half of 2018.

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