AT&T adds sub-6 GHz 5G for enterprise IoT

AT&T is opening up sub-6 GHz 5G access for enterprise Internet of Things (IoT) deployments, with managed services on a Cisco provided platform.

U.S. carriers, including AT&T, have already worked to leverage their wireless networks for IoT with LTE-based and other technology. AT&T launched a narrow-band IoT (NB-IoT) network nationwide in 2019, after LTE-M went live roughly two years earlier. NB-IoT typically supports use cases with lower bandwidth requirements in the kilohertz range.

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Alongside partner Cisco, AT&T said it currently manages millions of connected devices across industries and public safety via its 4G LTE and low-power IoT cellular networks.

To tap 5G connectivity for IoT, enterprises will need 5G-certified devices.

The Thursday announcement focused on customers of the AT&T Control Center service, which is a cloud-based IoT management platform supported by Cisco Jasper. It allows enterprises to see all IoT devices on their network and monitor data usage.

NB-IoT and Cat-M networks often support low-power devices that are less complex and don’t use that much data, like smart meters and for asset tracking. With today’s news AT&T looks to be setting up, in part, for more advanced use cases and future opportunities from massive IoT for 5G. It’s current sub-6 GHz 5G service covers around 251 million people and uses spectrum that’s also deployed for LTE.  

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“Working with Cisco, we continue to help businesses deploy IoT devices and applications faster and more securely and get more value out of devices they use,” said William Stovall, VP of Mobility, IoT and 5G at AT&T, in a statement. “This is an important first step toward the IoT massive connectivity that will eventually create opportunities for enterprises to realize the full potential of IoT.”

Globally, NB-IoT and Cat-M technologies are projected to make up 46% of all cellular IoT connections in 2026, according to Ericsson’s latest June Mobility Report (PDF). By the end of 2026, 44% of cellular IoT is expected to be supported by broadband IoT (for higher throughput, lower latency and more data-intensive use cases) and critical IoT for highly time-sensitive applications, connecting largely via 4G and 5G, respectively.

Last year, AT&T’s Gordon Mansfield told FierceWireless that NB-IoT devices aren’t as latency sensitive as those that would utilize a New Radio (NR) network. He cited high confidence that support for NB-IoT and LTE-M devices will continue for at least the next decade.

RELATED: NB-IoT, LTE-M stay hitched to LTE waveform

When it comes to 5G for IoT, the carrier today pointed to manufacturing, automotive and entertainment applications that could benefit today from lower latency and more bandwidth provided by 5G.

That includes plant facilities using cameras for better production line processes to monitor and identify defects in near-real time and reduce waste. AT&T said 5G-connected vehicles can experience faster streaming and download for music and other entertainment, navigation and software updates (AT&T earlier this week just announced its first 5G connected car deal with GM and cited similar benefits).

Verizon also has set its sights on automotive and manufacturing industries for IoT. In May Verizon created a new SVP role filled by TJ Fox, focused specifically on industrial IoT and connected car enterprise efforts.

Notably, AT&T also called out mobile personal emergency response device providers and users for 5G IoT, saying they “can have an improved sense of independence and security with faster response times provided via 5G.”

The alarm services industry is one that’s recently raised concern over impacts to potentially millions of consumers when AT&T shuts down its 3G network in February 2022, as the cellular data service supports signals for nearly 6 million alarm systems. That includes personal pendants or watches, often for elderly or at risk, to alert responders if for example, they’ve fallen and need assistance.