AT&T, Microsoft secure IoT connections to the cloud

AT&T’s latest move with Microsoft is a new integrated IoT module with Azure Sphere for businesses to securely connect devices to the cloud via LTE, bypassing third-party Wi-Fi.

The cellular-connected device is built with Microsoft’s Azure Sphere IoT, which includes hardware, operating system, software and Azure cloud services. 

A major focus is on security and ease of use. The module can plug into existing equipment and machines with a USB port. With AT&T’s global SIM a customer’s IoT subscription works across than more than 200 countries and 500 carriers, without having to re-credential. 

On the security front AT&T is providing its secure core wireless network, front-end managed services and guardian-device support for day-to-day operations. Azure Sphere, meanwhile, handles device-level security.

Businesses can retrofit current equipment and AT&T says it’s a way to quickly initiate massive IoT deployments at scale.

The carrier pointed to fast food restaurants, coffee shops, and hospitals as potential users. In a coffee shop, for example, AT&T said the guardian device makes sure online orders are filled and can also send new recipes to “thousands of machines.”

Businesses can also gain more data insights, such as machine maintenance, customer preferences and supply chain, reducing the need for on-site tech support, according to AT&T.   

AT&T and Microsoft inked a comprehensive multi-year strategic partnership in July 2019 including 5G, cloud, AI and edge computing. It’s part of a larger trend where cloud providers and wireless carriers have been linking up. Google Cloud and AT&T partnered earlier this year to jointly create a portfolio of 5G edge computing solutions, while Verizon is collaborating with AWS on mobile edge compute.

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LTE and LTE-M cellular connections are supported on the new guardian module from AT&T and Microsoft, which will keep device security updated for more than a decade. 

“The Azure Sphere components work seamlessly together to deliver ongoing device security updates for more than ten years,” wrote Galen Hunt, distinguished engineer and managing director for Microsoft Azure Sphere in a blog post Tuesday.

During a recent conversation with FierceWireless, AT&T VP of Mobility and Access Architecture Gordon Mansfield said he had “high confidence” that LTE-M and NB-IoT devices will still be supported 10 years from now, even as carriers migrate to 5G. (The crystal ball gets a little less clear past 10 years.)

AT&T’s narrowband IoT (NB-IoT) network launched nationwide in 2019, which is for different use cases with bandwidth requirements in the kilohertz range. LTE-M went live roughly two years prior in May 2017.

As of the second quarter 2020, AT&T had more than 71 million connected devices - though the carrier didn’t distinguish between NB-IoT and LTE-M. AT&T had more than 1 million IoT connections in each of nine different verticals including: automotive, consumer electronics, fleet, healthcare, insurance, manufacturing, public sector, retail, and security.

Ericsson’s June 2020 Mobility Report called out NB-IoT and Cat-M as Massive IoT technologies that will continue to grow, projected to account for 52% of all cellular IoT connections by the end of 2025. At the end of 2019 there were nearly 100 million massive IoT connections, and that’s expected to increase to nearly 3 billion in five years.