AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T) is now preparing to test its first low-power, bandwidth-constrained network variant of LTE for IoT applications this November, Chris Penrose, SVP of IoT Solutions at the operator, told Light Reading. (See AT&T Settles on LTE for Cellular IoT.)
"We think we're going one of the first in the world to stand up Category M deployment," Penrose says.
Penrose says that AT&T will be testing alarm monitoring systems, sensors, propane tank monitoring and more, with the Cat-M1 tests. Ericsson AB (Nasdaq: ERIC) is providing the network software upgrade for the AT&T 4G LTE network and AT&T is using chipsets from Altair Semiconductor . "There may be others that come forward," as the tests progress, Penrose adds. (See AT&T to Test 4G Specs for Unwiring IoT.)
Assuming the tests work well, Penrose says that AT&T will be able to roll out the software upgrade in 2017.
AT&T will follow this up with even lower power Cat-M2 tests in 2017 that are planned to be live on the network in 2018. So what's the technical difference between the two? Cat-M1 can offer up to 1Mbit/s data rates in 1.4MHz bandwidth. Cat-M2 delivers 500 Kbit/s on the downlink and 40 Kbit/s uplink in 180KHz bandwidth.
Confusing right? All of this had generically come under the banner of LTE-M originally. Cat-M2 generally tracks with Narrowband-IoT (NB-IoT) development. But that could still change in the future!
"Actually, we've been having some thoughts about what name to call that," laughs Penrose. The concern being that Category-M1 or Category-M2 is neither descriptive or memorable.
"We'll keep you posted," Penrose says.
Penrose says that the evolution of networks for IoT is priority number 1 for AT&T, with LTE being the "preferred choice" for the operator but with support for Bluetooth, WiFi and Zigbee in the mix. "There's going to be a fabric of networks that's going to exist, businesses just want it to work, Penrose suggests.
Priority number 2 is "repeatability" of developing IoT services, says Penrose. Basically, that means developing templates and best practices for IoT solutions. (See US Giants Carve Out Role in the Industrial IoT .)
"We've done it once. Can we do it over and over again?" Penrose asks.
The third priority for AT&T is "winning in the key verticals," Penrose notes. That's smart cities, transportation, connected cars, fleet management, healthcare and even drones!
"There's a lot that can be done if we really move ourselves beyond line of sight," he said of drones.
There are still building blocks that need to be put in place in the meantime. "We've just made a huge move with our starter kit for developers to get everything out the door," Penrose says.
The $99 kit will include an LTE network that will connect to the AT&T 4G networks, a global SIM, access to the AT&T control center and more.
— Dan Jones, Mobile Editor, Light Reading