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IoT Strategies

AT&T to Test 4G Specs for Unwiring IoT

BARCELONA -- Mobile World Congress 2016 -- AT&T said Monday that it is getting ready to test two low-power LTE specifications that are aimed at making 4G more friendly for the Internet of Things (IoT) "within 12 months."

AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T) is preparing to test the new Narrow Band IoT (NB-IoT) specification later this year, and will hold LTE-M trials as well. The 3rd Generation Partnership Project 2 (3GPP2) agreed to standardize on NB-IoT last fall. The technology is aimed at connecting devices that need a battery life measured in years rather than days or months, by reducing connection speeds to kilobits-per-second. LTE-M is optimized to offer a 1Mbit/s connection but with superior battery life compared to the typical 4G smartphone radio chipset. (See 3GPP Makes Progress on Crucial LTE IoT Spec and How IoT Forked the Mobile Roadmap for more on IoT specs.)

The tests will all take place "within the next 12 months," Chris Penrose, SVP of Internet of Things at AT&T, said at a media roundtable at Mobile World Congress.

The IoT boss says that AT&T is happy that low-power LTE options using licensed spectrum -- in other words, the bandwidth that AT&T actually owns -- are now becoming real. LTE, though, he suggests, is just one of the many options that AT&T will need to be ready to work with to support businesses that want to develop services using autonomous machines.

"We prefer the licensed [specifications], but obviously you're going to have multiple other options out there," Penrose says.

This could include anything from other low-power, wide-area specifications, such as LORA and SigFox, to short-range connections, like Bluetooth, WiFi and Zigbee. A portion of IoT is also wired network communications between machines, AT&T notes.

Penrose says that AT&T has to be "holistic" in its approach to IoT, because even if massive numbers of machines are networked in the future -- 25 billion by 2020 is an oft-cited number -- that doesn't mean that everything will be going over 2G, 3G or 4G cellular networks.

"There's a lot of different ways that these things are getting connected," Penrose states. "Only about 10% are being connected through cellular."

For Penrose, this means that if AT&T is to be a major force in IoT, it has to be prepared to support its customers whatever connection they chose and help them by securing the IoT service or devices. Security and safety are now becoming deeper concerns as IoT moves from concept into real life. Obviously, networked autonomous machines are going to become a major target for hackers as the market develops.

— Dan Jones, Mobile Editor, Light Reading

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