True to its word, Verizon is launching a nationwide 4G LTE Category M1 (Cat M1) network before the end of Q1. The telco says it will light up the Cat M1 network on March 31, making it the first commercial, LTE-based solution for IoT connectivity available across the US.
Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE: VZ) built out its Cat M1 network over 2.4 million square miles and is operating the infrastructure in a virtualized cloud environment that is meant to enable rapid application development. The company is working with a number of ecosystem partners, including chipset and hardware manufacturers like Gemalto , Qualcomm Inc. (Nasdaq: QCOM) and Sequans Communications , among others. Critically, Verizon is also pairing its IoT network with its own ThingSpace IoT platform. ThingSpace is Verizon's software development platform designed for creating applications ranging from smart transportation apps to connected healthcare solutions. (See How ThingSpace Will Make Money for Verizon.)
The race to deploy IoT infrastructure has led to a wide range of networking technologies, including those built on unlicensed spectrum like Sigfox and LoRa. NB-IoT is supposed to be the wireless industry's counterpoint solution constructed on top of licensed spectrum, but various delays have kept NB-IoT from gaining early traction. (See The NB-IoT Train Is Delayed.)
Cat M1 (also called LTE-M) is also a licensed-spectrum solution, and, in addition to reaching the market before NB-IoT, it does have some performance advantages over that recently standardized technology. However, pricing may keep Cat M1 from gaining the competitive edge it needs. According to Verizon, the company plans to offer $2-per-month data plans for Cat M1-connected devices, with additional options available for volume purchasing. In contrast, Actility estimated at the LPWAN conference in Paris last week that average costs across the market for devices connected to low-power, wide-area networks are closer to $1.
In addition to Verizon, AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T) also has plans to launch a national Cat M1 network in the first half of this year, having already begun trials in some markets. (See Tier 1 Operators Back LTE-M.)
Outside of the US, Cat M1 has gained some additional momentum, but operators appear to see the technology as a complement to LoRa rather than a wholesale substitute. LoRa is well suited to very low-power applications, while Cat M1 can offer greater bandwidth for applications that need a higher level of performance.
— Mari Silbey, Senior Editor, Cable/Video, Light Reading