AT&T is looking forward to the arrival of the new LTE specification designed to enable carriers to run thousands more Internet of Things devices on its 4G network.
The Internet of Things (IoT) concept anticipates that millions of devices from gas meters to fridges will get networked, but this depends on the development of wireless specifications to allow the machines to push out low data rates with very long battery lives.
Much of the development work in the low-power, wide-area network (LPWAN) technologies so far has come through 3rd party specifications like LORa. The 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP) , however, has been working on NB-IoT (Narrowband-IoT), a version of LTE that drops the transmit power and data rates of the 4G standard to increase battery life.
AT&T's Dave Wolter, assistant VP of radio technology and architecture, is expecting the LTE-based specification to start to go commercial in either 2017 or 2018. While talking -- largely about a 5G future -- at Light Reading's recent BCE event, he revealed that the carrier is also gearing up for NB-IoT. (See BCE 2016: Where AT&T's At With 5G.)
"We'll see the standards completed this summer and you'll probably see deployment in late 2017, or maybe early 2018," Woulter told the crowd in Austin.
AT&T, you may recall, is shutting down its 2G network in 2017, which is generally where most cellular machine-to-machine connections are supported today. (See AT&T Sunsetting 2G, Expanding Mexico LTE.)
The reason for the interest is two-fold. IoT is expected, but not guaranteed, to buffer operator's service revenue as voice declines and data becomes ever more commoditized.
A 5G platform for IoT is also expected to trail initial 5G launches in 2018, 2019 or 2020. IoT support is coming in the Phase 2 of development, which is expected to be completed sometime in 2019.
Wolter says the scale and latency of 5G will still be needed to support "massive IoT" even after the LTE developments. Massive IoT, which is a phrase you might as well get used to, anticipates that a 5G networked future will support billions of networked machines in the next decade and beyond.
In the meantime, however, there are still 4G LTE tweaks coming for IoT.
— Dan Jones, Mobile Editor, Light Reading