AT&T takes its own path to the IoT
Higher bandwidth LTE-M may be better for video
by Martha DeGrasse
AT&T is the only major U.S. carrier that hasn't announced plans to deploy narrowband IoT, the lowest cost cellular alternative for internet of things applications. The other carriers all say they will deploy NB-IoT alongside LTE-M, which offers higher bandwidth at a slightly higher price point. For now, AT&T is focused on LTE-M.
"We’re committed to our LTE-M network and driving adoption in the U.S. and Mexico. We continue to assess the market for NB-IoT and will pursue it if we feel it offers an advantage to our customers over LTE-M," the carrier said in early February 2018.
AT&T's decision to focus on LTE-M may be related to the way its customers are using the internet of things. The carrier has said that the killer IoT app is the camera, and is now using LTE-M to support inexpensive camera sensors.
"Camera images and video images really can replace a lot of IoT devices," said Craig Lee, AT&T's IoT Foundry lead. "One example would be trash bins using an IoT solution with a relatively inexpensive camera sensing element and LTE-M backhaul. Then the cloud software renders out the fill level. That information can be pulled back into software that makes a route for the [garbage truck] driver."
Lee said healthcare and manufacturing are two other areas in which AT&T sees robust demand for its LTE-M solutions. Like NB-IoT, LTE-M enables direct communication between sensors and the radio access network, without the added expense of a cellular gateway to aggregate data traffic.
"These solutions talk directly to the cell tower," said Lee. "Cat-M (LTE-M) allows for range extension where you can error correct, and it happens automatically between tower and device."
AT&T's Craig Lee demos connected trash bin