HomeCarriersAT&T sets 2019 schedule for rollout of NB-IoT networks in the US and Mexico

AT&T sets 2019 schedule for rollout of NB-IoT networks in the US and Mexico

US carrier AT&T has confirmed it will launch a narrowband ‘internet-of-things’ (NB-IoT) network in the US early next year, and in Mexico by the end of next year. Its support for NB-IoT will run in parallel with its existing LTE-M network.

AT&T said the launch will serve the growing needs of business customers for a wider range of low-power wide-area (LPWA) IoT solutions. The arrival of dual-mode NB-IoT and LTE-M chipsets and modules means customers can support a wide range of applications globally, it said.

Chris Penrose, president of IoT solutions at AT&T, said: “We’ve seen global momentum for LPWA since launching our North American LTE-M network last year. Adding NB-IoT to our portfolio will expand our LPWA capabilities, help drive investment in our evolution to 5G and support our customers as they deploy IoT solutions across the US and Mexico.”

It remains unclear whether AT&T will beat rival Verizon to launch NB-IoT services. Verizon has variously stated it will also launch in 2018, although it has refused at the same time to be held to a launch schedule. T-Mobile, meanwhile, has run NB-IoT services in the US since October last year. It introduced a $6-per-year, per-device NB-IoT plan in January to undercut rival LTE-M offers from AT&T and Verizon.

AT&T debuted its first commercial LTE-M site in the US in 2016, and rolled out LTE-M services nationwide in the second quarter of 2017. It introduced LTE-M in Mexico at the end of 2017, following trials in Tijuana and Puebla; it claimed at the time it would cover 400 million people in North America with its licensed LPWA equivalents.

Verizon was quicker off the mark, launching LTE-M in March 2017. Sprint has been slower, and remains in the process of rolling out LTE-M.

Twenty-four mobile operators have commercially launched 48 mobile IoT networks worldwide across both NB-IoT and LTE-M, according to the GSMA. The GSMA forecasts 1.8 billion licensed LPWA connections by 2025.

Ericsson thinks the number will be twice that, doubling its own forecast last week for cellular-based IoT connections to 3.5 billion by 2023, from around 0.6 billion million today. It had said at the end of 2017 there would be 1.8 billion in the period, in line with the GSMA’s forecast.

The industrial sector will comprise the biggest share of cellular IoT connections, it said, with 25 per cent of the total by 2023, followed by the automotive (23 per cent), utilities (12 per cent), finance (12 per cent), consumer healthcare (10 per cent), payments (four per cent), and security (three per cent) sectors.

ABI Research reckons the rate of growth of licensed LPWA network connections will outpace their unlicensed equivalents as the LPWA market swells by 53 per cent per year over the next five years. NB-IoT and LTE-M will capture more than 55 per cent of LPWA connections by 2023, it said, as Sigfox and LoRa cede market dominance for the first time. Growth will be spurred by smart meters and asset trackers, it said.

AT&T said NB-IoT and LTE-M have advantages over technologies that operate in unlicensed spectrum, such as LoRa and Sigfox, including greater protections from interference, broader coverage availability and carrier-grade security.

NB-IoT and LTE-M offer longer battery life, coverage extension, and lower costs than traditional cellular LTE connectivity. NB-IoT is ideally suited to meet basic data requirements, while LTE-M provides more robust capabilities including bandwidth for firmware and software updates, mobility and VoLTE services.

Both are both standardised within 3GPP and share the same 23 dBm (200 mW) maximum RF output power for edge devices and do not support MIMO. From here, the similarities end, and US carriers AT&T and Verizon will host them as complementary IoT technologies.

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