Partners Eager For Access To AT&T's IoT Network As Telecom Giant Readies LTE-M

AT&T is accelerating the rollout of its nationwide LTE-M network that it's building out to support the Internet of Things (IoT).

Following the completion of a successful pilot, AT&T said it's ready to launch its new LTE-M network ahead of schedule by the second quarter of this year.

The new network is AT&T's way of moving low-bandwidth traffic from connected devices onto a separate network. This IoT-centric network uses a different megahertz spectrum and offers lower speeds than its high-speed LTE network on which cellular devices such as smartphones rely.

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Partners say that for AT&T to drive the greatest benefit from its investment in the LTE-M network, the telecom giant must make it available to its channel partner community.

"The network really creates a path for partners deploying IoT to make those solutions much more widespread. I would think that they would make the network available to partners because some of the most unique IoT deployments on the AT&T network are being brought in by partners," said Max Silber, vice president of mobility for MetTel, a solution provider and AT&T partner.

A spokesperson for AT&T told CRN that the carrier couldn't share specifics on timing, but that LTE-M may not be immediately available to channel partners.

In an email to CRN, Jack Laskowitz, director of product development for AT&T Partner Solutions, said that the carrier is committed to delivering the most robust technologies to help solution providers take full advantage of future IoT opportunities.

"The LTE-M network is a game-changing innovation that we expect will help transform the industry now and in the future, unlocking new use cases and applications previously thought to be next to impossible," Laskowitz added.

New York-based MetTel is aggressively expanding into the IoT space, focusing particularly on deployments for specific industries, such as distribution and inventory, and healthcare-related use cases, including patient monitoring. The LTE-M network will allow MetTel to put together solutions using a lower cost chipset, which will help make IoT more accessible, Silber said.

The LTE-M network will be perfect for devices that need to stay consistently connected, but only need to check in once in a while to provide an alert or an update, like a sensor, he said.

"LTE communicates at a high bandwidth, so it's draining the battery. But when you have a network that can handle devices that don't need as much power, it means we could put more devices out the that last longer, so it offers better economies," Silber said.

Altaworx LLC., an AT&T Platinum partner and solution provider that specializes in hosted communications and IoT solutions, is also looking forward to gaining access to the lower-bandwidth LTE-M network to manage and support IoT deployments, especially for industrial use cases, said Rickie Richey, CEO of Altaworx, based in Mobile, Ala..

The LTE-M network will help Altaworx be more competitive in the IoT space with clearer data plans for connected devices, and the network will also save customers money, Richey said.

"Our customers really don't need the full power of the cellular LTE network, which is what they have to buy now [for connectivity]," he said. "Many of our customers need to connect sensors for things like temperature information, which needs very tiny amounts of data and speed is not an issue. LTE-M is just what these customers need."

Once it's available to partners, the LTE-M network will help them build and support new IoT deployments and use cases.

"We are seeing growing demand for IoT services, and networks like AT&T's can help these solutions become more widespread and used across just about every vertical," MetTel's Silber said.

The LTE-M network promises lower costs for connected devices, better coverage underground and inside buildings with smaller modules, and longer battery life. Because of the low-bandwidth connectivity requirements, batteries for LTE-M devices could last up to 10 years. This could help encourage more widespread IoT adoption, especially for smart-city devices that won't have to be replaced often, according to Dallas-based AT&T.

AT&T said that several well-known companies are already using its LTE-M network for both enterprise and consumer applications, including PepsiCo, which is using LTE-M to collect customer usage data from soda fountains to track stock.

Prior to the rollout of "IoT" networks, the four major U.S. carriers supported connected devices that didn't require high speeds through 2G technology. Verizon and T-Mobile, for instance, are also offering IoT-centric networks designed for devices that need low-bandwidth connectivity. In December, Verizon introduced its CAT-1 LTE network for IoT applications.