T-Mobile launches NB-IoT nationwide

T-Mobile said its NB-IoT network—designed specifically for internet of things applications—is now available nationwide. Dave Mayo, SVP of the carrier’s 5G and IoT businesses, explained that the launch means that the operator’s NB-IoT services are now available across the carrier’s 2.1-million-square-mile network covering 320 million POPs.

T-Mobile has been hinting at an NB-IoT network for roughly a year now. The operator in July of 2017 said it completed what it called “the continent’s first live network tests” of LTE-based NB-IoT technology along with Qualcomm and Ericsson across multiple sites on its network in Las Vegas using 200 KHz of its AWS spectrum. And T-Mobile unveiled a partnership with Las Vegas to deploy IoT services.

And in January T-Mobile announced an NB-IoT service plan, offering up to 12 MB per connected device for $6 per year.

T-Mobile’s Mayo explained that the operator will now push its nationwide offering via its new partner program, T-Mobile CONNECT, that will seek to pair customers with device and solution providers. Mayo said T-Mobile’s IoT services will also be available through Twilio’s “Programmable Wireless” service, launched in April.

“What we’re in the process of doing is building a collection of [IoT] applications ... and we'll distribute those applications through our sales channels, primarily to small- and medium-sized businesses and enterprise and government,” Mayo said, explaining T-Mobile’s IoT go-to-market strategy. “I don't think about it necessarily in terms of verticals, but more in terms of horizontals. Because horizontals have applications across multiple industries. It's a different way of approaching the market than what some of our competitors have done.”

Mayo said T-Mobile will focus on applications like fleet tracking, monitors for lighting controls, or sensors for overflow conditions, for example.

Mayo also said that T-Mobile will focus on the sale of solutions rather than just connections. Netcracker is supplying the management platform that T-Mobile’s customers can use to manage their IoT connections and solutions.

Mayo explained that T-Mobile’s NB-IoT network will support longer battery life for devices and inexpensive service plans coupled with slower network speeds. He added that NB-IoT modules will cost around $10 each, a price that will likely fall as sales pick up.

The operator’s NB-IoT network will primarily work in the operator’s AWS and PCS guard bands, though it may also use its 700 MHz in select locations.

Interestingly, Mayo said that the operator’s NB-IoT network will sit alongside its existing Cat 1 IoT network—launched last year—that provides much faster network speeds but also more expensive service plans and modules. T-Mobile has also said it will launch a Cat M network this year, though Mayo declined to provide a timeline for T-Mobile to launch Cat M. Cat M provides 1 Mbps speeds, while Cat 1 provides 10 Mbps speeds, and NB-IoT provides theoretical peak speed of 30 Kbps up and 30 Kbps down, but in practice it’s about 15 Kbps up and 15 Kbps down.

“We think we’ve covered a big chunk of the market with Cat 1 and Narrowband,” Mayo said.

Importantly, Mayo said that T-Mobile will continue operating its existing 2G network for the foreseeable future, but that the operator will direct new IoT customers to its new NB-IoT network because he said that network is better for IoT services.

That T-Mobile hasn’t provided a shutoff date for its 2G network is noteworthy considering AT&T shut down its 2G network in 2017 and Verizon has said it will do that at the end of next year.