AT&T Embraces Flexibility for IoT Connectivity
In 2016, the announcements on AT&T's connectivity tactics for the Internet of Things have been coming fast and furiously -- and the latest update from the telco suggests that these tactics will soon pay off.
Toward the beginning of this year, Mobeen Khan, an enterprise IoT practice leader for AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T) (NYSE: T), told Light Reading that AT&T was investigating a wide variety of network-connectivity options for IoT -- including low-power LTE derivatives (specifically, NB-IoT and Cat-M), non-LTE LPWAN, WiFi, and even satellite.
"We're in the process of evaluating all of [the low-power network alternatives]," Khan was quoted as saying. "A decision has not been made but we do feel certain use cases require one."
Khan's sentiments remained status quo for AT&T a few weeks later when the company announced at Mobile World Congress 2016 that it was preparing to test NB-IoT and Cat-M for selected IoT partners. By the time the Telecom Exchange NYC 2016 rolled around in June, Khan -- at this point assistant vice president of strategy and product management for AT&T IoT Solutions -- indicated that the only change to AT&T's IoT connectivity plans were a complete scrapping of LPWAN options not based in LTE (absent, per Khan, "a strong customer need that's driving it for a specific customer") -- while keeping all of the other aforementioned IoT connectivity options, along with a few others (such as Bluetooth and mesh networking), a go.
Now, a recent Telco Transformation interview with Khan has shed some light on where the Big Bell stands today with IoT connectivity -- and how far it has come.
"At the connectivity layer, obviously we lead with our Global SIM and our cellular connectivity and IoT," said Khan while speaking with Telco Transformation. "[As for] the IoT devices that are connected on the network, a lot of them are global devices."
More to the point, Khan reported, AT&T's low-power network connectivity preparations for IoT applications are moving steadily along.
"AT&T provides, obviously, the cellular connectivity piece, and we are investing in … low-power networks -- [specifically,] the Cat-M category of connectivity options in our network," highlighted Khan. "We will do the trial for Cat-M1 in San Francisco in November by the end of this year, and then deployments will happen next year. So we are investing in that."
AT&T further reports, separately, that the use cases for the Cat-M1 trial in San Francisco will include such disparate applications as alarm monitoring, propane tank monitoring, smart meters, and vending inventory. Assuming no hiccups, the next step for AT&T here, according to Chris Penrose, senior vice president of AT&T IoT Solutions, is to publicly release Cat-M1 for commercial availability next calendar year.
Still, for all of the attention and debate that low-power networking alternatives have garnered, AT&T has by no means abandoned the rest of its multi-network, extracellular strategy for IoT -- especially where the company's global IoT presence is concerned.
"We announced satellite … as an integrated option for our IoT customers -- especially in the industrial space," beamed Khan, referring to AT&T's nascent partnership with Globecomm Systems, Inc., a data management company that provides end-to-end satellite-based communications solutions. "We are also one of the largest providers for WiFi networks for enterprise customers, so we can integrate WiFi connectivity for satellite as well." (See IoT: Khan Lays Out AT&T's Investments, Partnerships & Challenges.)
Indeed, AT&T's satellite partnership makes a good deal of sense considering that vast swaths of the world simply do not get cellular connectivity -- not even on telecom giant AT&T's ubiquitous and powerful network. At the same time, according to Khan, many more devices -- while perhaps not desperately needing non-cellular options because of geographical issues, such as an oil well in the middle of a large desert may -- simply have better options than cellular from a cost-benefit perspective.
"We are focusing on, at the connectivity layer, in terms of growth strategy -- or development strategy, if you will -- [the fact that] a predominant number of IoT devices will not use cellular, or cellular only," noted Khan. "It depends on the use case and the customer. There are many use cases where ... satellite and cellular makes perfect sense. There are other use cases where WiFi makes perfect sense."
AT&T, for its part, seems determined to not leave any device behind, or, for that matter, any money on the table.
"Think of vending machines; there are vending machines that are deployed inside of buildings or in … other places where you have an integrated module which has WiFi, so your WiFi connectivity takes over -- and ... if you do not have WiFi connectivity, cellular takes over, or vice versa," Khan explained.
— Joe Stanganelli, Contributing Writer, Telco Transformation
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