AT&T Will Pilot Cat-M1 Advanced Network Technologies To Strengthen IoT Investment

AT&T plans to pilot the use of Cat-M1 technologies later in the year, moving it a step closer toward running Internet of Things traffic on its LTE network, the communications giant said Tuesday.

The network technology Cat-M1 can operate on existing network footprints and flexibly co-exist with mobile broadband services in the same spectrum, according to AT&T. The design of this technology supports next-generation IoT devices, including wearables and utility meters, and can help cut costs as well as boost device performance for IoT deployments.

"Cat-M1 is an advantage for the millions of IoT devices and services coming on the market,’ Chris Penrose, senior vice president of AT&T Internet of Things Solutions, said in a statement. ’We expect this pilot will prove that. This next-generation technology will help businesses gather near real-time information on assets around the world. It will bring a connected world closer to reality."

[Related: Microsoft, GE Partner To Bring IoT Azure Cloud Services To Industrial Tasks]

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Cat-M1 is an attractive, early alternative for IoT applications over LTE because it's already standardized and can meet the requirements of a wider range of machine-type communications applications.

AT&T hopes Cat-M1 will enable access of low-cost module technology, extended battery life of at least 10 years for enabled Internet of Things devices, and enhanced LTE coverage for underground and in-building areas that challenge existing coverage.

Rob Chamberlin, co-founder and executive vice president of Berkeley, Calif.-based DataXoom, an AT&T partner, said AT&T has ’been a leader in the IoT space’ and has been particularly aggressive with auto manufacturers and the connected car marketplace.

’Importantly for AT&T, the adoption of this new technology should help speed up the long-planned migration away from its 2G network,’ he said. ’I believe it’s a good move for AT&T to test new Cat-M1 technologies that leverage its impressive LTE network. The new technology standard would provide more security than unlicensed spectrum, increase the lifespan of many connected devices, and offer enhanced transmission speeds and efficiency. As large companies continue to embrace IoT, security is going to become a much more important aspect of any large enterprise implementation.’

Also on Tuesday, AT&T announced it will offer integrated tools to help IoT developers build their IoT solutions quickly by using AT&T IoT Platforms and Microsoft Azure cloud, analytics and visualization tools.

The move is only AT&T’s latest in diving deeper into IoT. In June, the company announced that it has certified new Cat-1 and Cat-4 modules on its 4G LTE network to help drive down costs of LTE connectivity, as well as enable customers to deploy a wide range of IoT solutions more efficiently and upgrade to Cat-M1.

For AT&T partners, there’s a lot of interest in Internet of Things – but most haven’t determined how best to monetize it yet, said Chamberlin. On DataXoom’s end, the company has been focusing on higher-bandwidth IoT business applications and use cases, including connected cars and wearables.

’It’s quite difficult to make money in IoT on sensors or wireless connectivity … the real opportunity lies in services around the solution stack provided by a trusted partner,’ he said. ’I think for mid-sized and smaller partners, it’s important to focus on a particular vertical and go deep into that.’

AT&T plans to pilot the network in the San Francisco market with applications like alarm monitoring, smart meters and vending inventory, beginning in November. Following that trial, AT&T said it plans to make Cat-M1 available commercially in 2017.