AT&T launches nationwide LTE-M network for IoT

Seven weeks after rival Verizon announced the launch of its LTE-M network nationwide, AT&T said it has completed deployment of its nationwide LTE-M network for the internet of things (IoT) ahead of schedule.

But AT&T isn’t done yet. The operator plans to deploy LTE-M across Mexico by the end of 2017 to create an LTE-M footprint covering 400 million people.

One of the big draws with LTE-M is supposed to be the price, and AT&T announced a new suite of rate plans with LTE-M, with monthly plans starting for as little as $1.50 per month per device.

Further discounts will be available for yearly and multiyear plans, as well as volume commitments, the operator said.

By comparison, when Verizon announced its LTE-M network launch in March, it referenced data plans as low as $2 per month per device, with customized options available for bulk activations and volume purchases.  

AT&T also said that its LTE-M modules will be available from its supplier for as low as $7.50 each, including a SIM card, which it said is half the cost of the LTE Cat 1 module AT&T launched with its supplier in 2016. In addition, its current IoT starter kits with M14A2A modules will be software-upgradeable to LTE-M with an upcoming firmware update.

"Our nationwide LTE-M deployment is another example of AT&T's continued investment and leadership in IoT," said Chris Penrose, president of IoT Solutions at AT&T, in a press release. "We can now reach new places and connect new things at a price that's more affordable than ever before. Our LTE-M starter kit will also spur developers to open the doors to IoT innovation."

The company said its LTE-M deployment—the result of software upgrades—marks another step forward on its path to 5G and massive IoT. And AT&T points out that the network is deployed with global, 3GPP standardized technology using licensed spectrum for carrier-grade security, something the companies touting noncellular IoT solutions can't say. 

LTE-M supports large-scale IoT deployments such as smart city services, smart metering, asset tracking, supply chain management, security and alarm monitoring and personal wearables.

Both AT&T and Verizon have described LTE-M as a game changer. Some of the advantages of LTE-M over traditional IoT connectivity options include longer battery life—up to 10 years—as well as better coverage for IoT underground and deep inside buildings. It also offers reduced module size; modules can be as small as 1/6 the size of current modules.

Most of the biggest U.S. operators are expected to deploy Narrowband IoT after LTE-M.

RELATED: Sprint to deploy LTE Cat 1 by end of July, with Cat M coming in mid-2018

Sprint recently said it will complete its deployment of LTE Cat 1 technology across its nationwide network by the end of July, with plans to begin deploying LTE Cat M in mid-2018 followed by LTE Cat NB1.

T-Mobile CTO Neville Ray tweeted in March that his company is focused on narrowband IoT and plans to support it in 2018.