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T-Mobile attends GSMA Global Mobile IoT Summit.

09/12/2017

LIVE FROM GSMA MOBILE WORLD CONGRESS AMERICAS 2017: Verizon and T-Mobile US are pushing toward NarrowBand Internet of Things technology (NB-IoT) in 2018, but AT&T and Sprint are staying more focused on LTE-M, as use cases for low power networks drive the US carriers in different directions.

Speaking at Monday’s GSMA Global Mobile IoT Summit, Mark Bartolomeo, Verizon’s VP of connected solutions for IoT, said the operator, which is an existing backer of LTE-M (in fact, it launched the country’s first LTE-M network), is planning to get started on NB-IoT testing next year.

Generally, Bartolomeo said, Verizon is targeting “markets where IoT will bring some type of societal benefit”, including applications like track and trace for food and drug safety and regulatory compliance in the pharmaceutical and energy segments.

To facilitate adoption, though, Bartolomeo said costs need to come down, and carriers have to make it simpler to connect and manage devices.

“As that cost goes down and we get to really a $10 and $5 module cost, we’ll be able to connect low value assets, whereas today the realm of IoT is still fairly consistently approaching the management of high value assets,” he said.

T-Mobile on Monday said it also has plans for NB-IoT in 2018. The carrier will start with a commercial trial in Las Vegas later this year before pushing toward a nationwide deployment of the technology in mid-2018.

The operator’s director of marketing for IoT, Daniel Herb, said spectral efficiency gains from the deployment of NB-IoT will enable pricing that is “IoT friendly.” However, he noted those gains won’t come at the flip of a switch.

“To make that happen, there’s a lot that needs to be solved, just in the mechanics of roaming, and the way that the OSS and BSS stacks were built in contemplating the world of smartphones and not the world of IoT,” he said.

Sprint
Sprint has its eye elsewhere. Mohamad Nasser, GM of Sprint’s IoT Business Unit, said the carrier is currently focused on four main use cases – transportation, healthcare, retail, and insurance – which lend themselves to LTE-M rather than NB-IoT.

While Sprint at least has NB-IoT on its watch list, at least one US player doesn’t have any current plans for the technology: AT&T.

Cameron Coursey, VP of product development, said that’s because “you can do certain things with LTE-M that you can’t do with narrowband”.

In a comment provided to Mobile World Live, a spokeswoman confirmed AT&T isn’t planning to take on NB-IoT until it offers differentiation from LTE-M.

“Our view is that LTE-M can address all the benefits of NB-IoT, like lower module costs, coverage enhancements, extended battery life,” she said.

“Plus, it offers voice services, such as VoLTE, and mobility, which are very important to many of the IoT verticals.”