AT&T launches LTE-M Button, ponders NB-IoT

Almost exactly a year after launching its nationwide LTE-M network, AT&T has introduced a device that it hopes will bring more customers onto that network. The carrier first talked about its LTE-M Button late last year, shortly after it expanded its relationship with Amazon Web Services. Now the button is commercially available, and AT&T says it can trigger AWS-based algorithms to execute commands with one click.

Like the Amazon Dash button, AT&T's button can be used for one-click ordering. Manufacturers can build it into containers so that consumers can easily reorder whatever was in that container just by pressing a button. The Amazon Dash button uses Wi-Fi to connect to the internet, but the LTE-M button will of course use AT&T's low-power, wide-area cellular network. This means the buttons can be built into equipment that is meant for use in places where Wi-Fi is not available.

AT&T foresees many other uses for its LTE-M Button. The carrier would like to see large venues like stadiums and conference centers install the buttons in seats so that customers can use them to vote or send feedback. Another potential use case is for seniors or other vulnerable people, who could push the button for help if needed. 

AT&T will sell the button for $30, a price that includes 1,500 clicks and no recurring service charges. The button is part of AT&T's IoT marketplace, which also includes development kits and data plans. Data plans sell for as little as $3 per month on AT&T's LTE-M network.

LTE-M is much less expensive than the LTE that smartphones use, because LTE-M devices transmit very small amounts of data, usually at infrequent intervals, and consume very little power. But LTE-M is not the least expensive cellular standard for the internet of things. Narrowband IoT, or NB-IoT, uses even less power and bandwidth than LTE-M. Analysts expect NB-IoT to eventually be the dominant cellular standard for IoT devices, but say there is room for many forms of low power connectivity because a wide variety of devices will ultimately be connected. 

Verizon, T-Mobile and Sprint have all announced plans to deploy NB-IoT alongside LTE-M, but AT&T has remained fairly quiet on the subject of NB-IoT. In February the carrier said it was assessing the market for NB-IoT, and would pursue it if it seemed to offer an advantage for customers.

This month, AT&T's Igal Elbaz, the VP charged with "sharpening AT&T’s focus on innovation both internally and externally," said his team is "trying to get its head around NB-IoT." He stopped short of saying the carrier will launch an NB-IoT network, however.