SAN JOSE, Calif. — The two largest U.S. cellular carriers and five module makers said they will use a Qualcomm chip implementing the latest low-power LTE standards for the Internet of Things. The news shows the cellular IoT standards should get strong market penetration next year.
AT&T will use the Qualcomm’s MDM9206 in a San Francisco pilot of Cat-M1 that it expects to be the start of a national service roll out in 2017. Verizon will use the chip in its Thingspace service. Cellular module makers Quectel, Telit, U-Blox, Simcom and Wistron NeWeb Corp. said they will use the chips in modules supporting Cat-M1 and NB-1 services.
The Cat M1 standard delivers up to 380 Kbits/second over a 1.4 MHz channel. NB-1 handles up to 40 Kbits/s over 200 kHz channels. Qualcomm said the modules using its chips will ship in early 2017 for Cat-M1, with a software upgrade to NB-1 following “shortly thereafter.”
The lower power LTE specifications are expected to enable new kinds of cellular IoT uses in electric and water meters, building security and lighting, industrial control, retail point of sale and asset tracking. Low power IoT apps previously used mainly 802.15.4 variants with a swath of new options courting uses that need support across wide areas.
The flood of new IoT networks is seen as a game changer, especially in cellular. Vendors hope the 7-billion-unit installed base of cellular M2M modules expands as what has been a market of custom-built systems turns into something of a do-it-yourselfer’s paradise.
The options are already creating strange bedfellows. France’s Orange, for example, is rolling out LoRa as well as cellular IoT networks, and cellular module maker U-Blox started making modules for the Ingenu network.
Initially, U.S. giants AT&T and Verizon will deploy M1 networks while China and Vodaphone and Deutsche Telekom in Europe will use NB1 first, in part due to issues of spectrum availability. Some carriers in Europe aim to support a third cellular IoT spec, a 3G variant called Extended Coverage GSM which uses 200 kHz channels.
“Ultimately, 80-90% of carriers will offer both [M1 and NB1] because there’s enough differentiation between the two, and NB1 has a sweet spot in sensor networks,” said Aapo Markkanen, an analyst with Machina Research.
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