US-based telecom AT&T has launched its narrowband IoT (NB-IoT) network across the US and Mexico, making good on its announcement from last summer that it would have the network up and running by the spring of 2019.
The company’s newly launched network is an addition to its stable of low-powered wide-area networks (LPWANs) and is meant to complement its LTE-M network as well as its core high-speed cellular coverage.
Here’s what it means: Adding another low-powered option gives AT&T a range of options to offer to customers, allowing it to match its top competitors.
- AT&T’s NB-IoT network is well-suited to a range of IoT use cases. These include programs such as smart meters and location tracking, as well as connected street lights and smart appliances. All of these types of devices and monitors track a few pieces of operational data almost constantly, but that data doesn’t take up much space and can be sent to central platforms using low-bandwidth connections that NB-IoT networks provide. And by using these low-powered networks, the devices’ battery power can last for as long as 10 years.
- Its LTE-M networks are well-suited to more data-intensive applications, as they offer faster data connections, though they require slightly higher power consumption. AT&T can use the network variant for uses such as transmitting software and firmware updates from central servers to remote devices. The networks can also support voice communication as well as move data to and from things such as medical wearables.
- The NB-IoT rollout is AT&T’s response to customer feedback that highlighted demand for NB-IoT in addition to LTE-M. Customers were looking for lower-cost solutions to meet their specific needs that LTE-M wasn’t best equipped to handle. This pushed the telecom to look into how NB-IoT could fit into its network. Launching the network, however, meant a larger capital outlay, as some towers and base stations required physical upgrades to enable NB-IoT, where LTE-M was strictly a software change.
The bigger picture: With 5G networks nearing the point where they’ll start to make marked impacts on everyday business, it’s key for telecoms like AT&T to continue to develop companion networks to operate alongside flagship high-speed offerings.
5G networks are great for moving huge amounts of data from one place to another very quickly — that’s why some of AT&T’s first uses of 5G will be to replace local wired networks, CEO Randall Stephenson said on the company’s Q1 2019 earnings call.
But companies also have myriad small sensor-enabled devices in use around the world. Many of these devices don’t have the battery life to support a 5G modem, and furthermore don’t create enough data to justify using the standard.
As a result, NB-IoT and LTE-M networks are growing more popular with operators around the world, with the count rising to 94 as of February, according to the GSMA. Business Insider Intelligence forecasts that there will be more than 3.5 billion global devices connecting to LPWANs by 2024.
Telecoms need to develop these networks — and the business plans to support them — to capitalize on the growing market.
SEE ALSO: 5G AND THE IoT: How the next generation of wireless technology will transform the IoT
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