AT&T pilots dedicated IoT mobile network

But it will cost more than your mobile phone

Road at night image via Shutterstock

AT&T will pilot a dedicated mobile network solely for the internet of things next month in San Francisco.

The telecom giant will run the special and separate LTE-M network in the city in November and use it to connect everything from smart meters to alarm systems to vending machines.

It has signed up a number of companies including Samsung and Pepsi to test out the system, and is planning to roll it out commercially sometime next year.

"We have pulled together players from across the ecosystem to pilot solutions for a myriad of industries and applications," the company's veep of IoT Chris Penrose said.

"LTE-M will provide a unique combination of enhanced coverage and longer battery life with carrier-grade security. It's part of our strategy to offer the widest range of IoT network options to our customers."

What Chris doesn't mention, however, is the high cost of the network. In a separate announcement, AT&T provided pricing details:

  • $25 for 1GB a month
  • $60 for 3GB a month
  • $100 for 5GB a month

These prices are actually significantly more expensive than AT&T consumer mobile phone users except at the very lowest end. As an AT&T phone customer you can get:

  • 1GB for $30 a month
  • 3GB for $40 a month (a third cheaper)
  • 6GB for $60 a month (half the price)

No wonder AT&T is prepared to set up a whole new network: it can clearly see the dollar signs.

LTE-M is also known as Cat-M1 and is a protocol that has been specifically developed to work better with a large number of always-on, low-power devices that characterize the IoT market.

Of course, this being the internet of things, there is also another competing standard called NB-IoT. That standard has some advantages – it is cheaper and a little more flexible – but it also allows for a lower peak data rate and is almost a year behind the development of LTE-M.

AT&T announced in July that it would run the pilot "later this year" – this week's announcement shows that things are progressing on schedule. The news also promoted main competitor Verizon to announce last month that it was also going to launch an LTE-M network, claiming that it would be first-to-market with a full solution.

The AT&T pilot will include a wide range of technologies and products, with everyone from Ericsson and Qualcomm to Xirgo involved. The testing partners that have been announced include:

  • Smart water device company Badger Mete.r
  • Connected vehicle company CalAmp.
  • Underground water meter company Capstone Metering.
  • Fizzy syrup water company Pepsi, which will use it for their vending machines.
  • Samsung, which will use it to test out wearables. ®

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