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AT&T Pushes Cat M LTE for Cellular IoT in the Americas

Dan Jones

SAN FRANCISCO -- Mobile World Congress Americas 2017 -- AT&T is now big on Cat M LTE as a potential catalyst for more cellular IoT devices in the US -- and beyond -- while seeming lukewarm on the future for NB-IoT.

AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T) has now deployed Cat M LTE support across the US and completed two trials in Mexico. "We're on schedule to bring that network up by the end of the year," Mike Troiano, vice president of industrial IoT solutions at the carrier, told Light Reading Wednesday morning in San Francisco. This would give potential users coverage across both countries.

"We'll continue to evaluate our options," Troiano said of the Narrowband IoT version of LTE, while explaining that AT&T is now "very comfortable" with Cat M as a technology. In fact, Troiano thinks that Cat M could be a catalyst for encouraging more use of cellular Internet of Things (IoT) devices.

Traditionally, he says, about 10% of IoT -- or machine-to-machine -- devices have used a cellular connection. AT&T is hoping to increase that number to 20% or 30% of the entire market.

Part of the reason is that the battery life on Cat M allows it to be used for long-term battery-powered applications. "We believe that -- depending on how often you talk to the device -- you can get up to ten years battery life out of LTE M," Troiano explains, adding that the battery life profile is similar to NB-IoT.

At the moment, he said, AT&T has asset trackers on its 3G network that need to be recharged every two weeks, so "five to ten years" on Cat M is an improvement.

Another advantage is that Cat M has signal propagation "about seven times that of our traditional LTE" network.

As the ecosystem evolves, the price of a Cat M module has gone down to about $7.50, "within striking distance" of WiFi, Troiano notes, while ten operators globally are planning to deploy Cat M networks.

— Dan Jones, Mobile Editor, Light Reading

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