AT&T plans to launch a narrowband Internet of Things (NB-IoT) network in the U.S. early next year. The launch will offer an alternative to the company’s existing LTE-M network, which also supports IoT communications.
As AT&T explained in a press release, both NB-IoT and LTE-M offer longer battery life, extended coverage and lower costs in comparison with traditional cellular LTE connectivity. Those factors are critical for IoT applications, which are likely to involve large numbers of sensors, typically transmitting relatively small amounts of data, and which may be located in difficult-to-service areas.
According to AT&T “NB-IoT is ideally suited to meet basic data requirements, while LTE-M provides more robust capabilities including bandwidth for firmware and software updates, mobility and VoLTE (voice over LTE) services.”
AT&T began offering LTE-M connectivity just over a year ago.
The carrier noted in today’s press release that the introduction of NB-IoT and LTE-M dual-mode chipsets and modules means customers can support a wide range of applications globally. Deploying NB-IoT will require software upgrades at cellsites, the company said.
The LPWA Market
Some people use the term “low power wireless access (LPWA)” to encompass a wide range of IoT communications, including cellular and non-cellular options. As of last year, non-cellular options dominated the LPWA category, but cellular technologies – including NB-IoT and LTE-M – will account for 55% of total LPWA connections by 2023, according to ABI Research. ABI forecasts 1 billion IoT connections in 2023.
Analyst firm Mobile Experts sees NB-IoT comprising 57% of the cellular LPWA category by 2022.
AT&T won’t be the first carrier to launch NB-IoT service. At least one other carrier – T-Mobile – already offers NB-IoT service.