Following deal with China Mobile, AT&T boasts of scale, flexibility of LTE M network for IoT

BARCELONA, Spain—AT&T’s David Allen said that the carrier’s new agreement with China Mobile for the deployment of IoT services represents another milestone for the company in its efforts to more fully cement its position in the internet of things space.

“There’s major momentum with LTE M,” Allen said during the FierceWireless “The New IoT Battleground: Low-Power, Wide-Area Networks” event here held on the sidelines of the Mobile World Congress trade show.

On the first day of the MWC show, AT&T announced that its IoT services will be available in China through China Mobile’s network. “Together, we’re developing a new tech platform that will seamlessly move a business customer’s AT&T IoT subscription over to China Mobile’s local service,” AT&T announced in a release. “The behind-the-scenes switch will help simplify the supply chain for our customers looking to expand to China. This will give them more speed to market and greater efficiency in driving new revenue streams.”

AT&T’s announcement came shortly after the carrier said it will deploy its nationwide LTE-M network ahead of schedule, bumping the launch up to the second quarter of 2017, and will roll out the technology in Mexico by the end of the year.

LTE-M is designed to support large-scale IoT deployments by enabling lower device costs, longer battery life, better coverage underground and in buildings, and by connecting modules that are one-sixth the size of current modules. Verizon is also building an LTE M network, which AT&T’s Allen said indicated further momentum behind LTE M.

But LTE M is just one element of AT&T’s offerings to enterprises, Allen said. “It’s important that you offer a customer a full range of services and not just one service,” he said.

Sigfox’s Allen Proithis countered that assertion. “From a customer side, IoT doesn’t even exist,” he said, explaining that most IoT customers don’t know about or care what network they’re using. Instead, they’re interested in efficient, inexpensive and useful services. He said the IoT needs a “Kindle-type simplicity” where services are bundled into the cost of the device.

Sigfox is a French startup that’s building a low-cost, slow-speed IoT network across a number of countries around the globe; in the United States the company hopes to cover 40% of the U.S. population by the end of 2017.

But Comtech’s Sameer Vuyyuru said that IoT customers need to ensure their services are also flexible. He pointed to one unnamed city that he said had to rip out and replace an IoT network running its streetlights in order to replace it with one that could provide more bandwidth for connected car services.

“It just did not have the bandwidth,” Vuyyuru said of the initial IoT installation, adding that IoT users need to pick a “futureproof and variable-aperture network, where you can actually close the aperture and open the aperture you need” as your need for bandwidth increases and decreases. Comtech acquired TCS in 2015 and is now working to sell location services and other offerings in the IoT space.

Ultimately, though, Sigfox’s Proithis argued that multiple IoT services would remain relevant in the coming years. “I think you’re going to see more than one pair of shoes in your closet,” he said, explaining that some global cellular operators like Altice and Telefonica have teamed with Sigfox in order to resell the startup’s network services to their own enterprise customers.