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AT&T takes its own path to the IoT

AT&T is taking a slightly different path from its competitors when it comes to the internet of things. It’s the only major U.S. operator that hasn’t yet committed to narrowband IoT technology. 

Narrowband IoT, also called NB-IoT and Cat NB1, is the lowest cost cellular alternative for internet of things applications. It’s expected to allow wireless carriers to offer business customers more services like asset tracking, metering and equipment monitoring. Verizon, Sprint, and T-Mobile US have all disclosed plans to deploy the technology, as has Dish Network. But AT&T has a different plan. Read More.

“We’re committed to our LTE-M network and driving adoption in the U.S. and Mexico. We continue to assess the market for NB-IoT and will pursue it if we feel it offers an advantage to our customers over LTE-M,” the carrier said in early February 2018.

AT&T’s IoT team is focused on LTE-M, a slightly more expensive IoT protocol that offers more bandwidth than NB-IoT. The other nationwide carriers plan to deploy both LTE-M and NB-IoT. AT&T’s decision to focus on LTE-M may be related to the way its customers are using the internet of things. The carrier has said that the killer IoT app is the camera, and is now using LTE-M to support inexpensive camera sensors. 

“Camera images and video images really can replace a lot of IoT devices,” said Craig Lee, AT&T’s IoT Foundry lead. “One example would be trash bins using an IoT solution with a relatively inexpensive camera sensing element and LTE-M backhaul.  Then the cloud software renders out the fill level. That information can be pulled back into software that makes a route for the driver
.”

Lee said healthcare and manufacturing are two other areas in which AT&T sees robust demand for its LTE-M solutions. Like NB-IoT, LTE-M enables direct communication between sensors and the radio access network, without the added expense of a cellular gateway to aggregate data traffic.

“These solutions talk directly to the cell tower,” said Lee. “
Cat-M (LTE-M) allows for range extension where you can error correct, and it happens automatically between tower and device.”

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