AT&T rolls out LTE-M network to support IoT connectivity

Article By : Steve Taranovich

LTE-M is essentially a low-power, wide-area technology that can support the IoT with such technology that will foster lower device complexity.

At the recently held MEMS & Sensors Executive Congress, Cameron Coursey, VP of product development at AT&T Internet of Things Solutions, discussed the future of sensors and MEMs in the IoT.

[AT&T Cameron Coursey (cr)]
__Figure 1:__ *AT&T Coursey’s keynote telling us that there are already 10.5M+ connected cars as of 3Q2016 and there is connectivity in 9 out of the top 10 fleet solution providers.*

In Coursey’s keynote he commented upon a Walter Isaacson book, The Innovators, when he quoted, “Technology development occurs when ripe seeds fall on fertile ground. Today we have a lot of fertile ground for the IoT, and the ripe seeds are coming.”

Timing is everything, someone had said somewhere at some time in history, and we are now entering the 4th Industrial Revolution, commented Coursey—The Internet of Things.

High momentum growth has been promised to us all and it is coming soon if you just take a look around the development community. Coursey said that we already have 30M connected devices as of 3Q2016.

So what is LTE-M?

Well historically, LTE-M was formerly known as Cat M1 by the Global System for Mobile Communications Association (GSMA). As the industry players looked to provide the next generation of IoT connectivity, two different standards have emerged under release 13 of 3GPP – CAT-M1 and NB-IoT.

[IoTNow CATvsNB (cr)]
__Figure 2:__ *Differences between CAT-M1 and NB-IoT (Source: IoT Now blog by Itay Lusky)*

LTE-M is essentially a low-power, wide-area technology that can support the IoT with such technology that will foster lower device complexity while extending coverage using the existing LTE installed base.

Coursey told us that AT&T will be deploying a pilot of the LTE-M network in the San Francisco market the week of November 14. They plan to launch this technology throughout their existing LTE network next year in 2017 without the need of a new network buildout. The system is 3GPP, highly secure with a dedicated spectrum (not a shared unlicensed spectrum).

This technology will be able to connect a huge variety of IoT solutions like utility meters, asset monitoring, vending machines, alarm systems, fleets, heavy equipment, mHealth and wearables just to name a few.

Lower cost modules will be enabled to connect IoT devices to the existing LTE network, longer battery life of up to 10 years will be achieved for certain IoT devices and better coverage for IoT devices underground as well as deep inside of buildings.

Imagine connecting IoT sensors to water pipes below the ground and in buildings to detect leaks? How much money can that save and as well as conservation goals that will be improved. MAERSK shipping containers will also be able to monitor refrigerated status worldwide; San Francisco is a big port that can test this system. They can start with their seafood shipping prowess worldwide.


This is all wonderful, but what about security in the IoT? Threat management will be properly deployed, according to Coursey.

[AT&T IoT Security (cr)]
__Figure 3:__ *IoT security is a layered approach (Source: AT&T)*

In order to make this system work, the missing ingredient according to Coursey, is MEMS and sensors. They can bring about the Internet of Countless Things, says Coursey if they:

  1. Follow price, size and power consumption curves along the lines of radio technology or even better.
  2. Have standardised I/O
  3. Are simple to integrate and use with applications

Sounds like a good bridge to 5G to me.

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