September 13, 2016 —
Verizon is showing some signs of taking the IoT seriously. They are developing a technology based Cat M1 technology for LTE networks with the idea that they can compete with low-power platforms such as Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, Zigbee, and Z-Wave for IoX connections. Cat M is one of the three iterations specifically applicable to M2M/IoX that are optimized for progressively lower bandwidth and (therefore) optimal device power consumption.
Looks interesting. Verizon is targeting this for low-power, wide-area (LPWA) network applications. These modules, said to cost less than $10 will be limited in bandwidth to not more than 1.4 megahertz for both uplink and downlink speeds and capped at one megabit per second. Verizon expects these modules to improve the economics of IoX for use cases such smart meters, some segments of the Industrial IoT (aka M2M) sensor market, high value asset trackers, and some consumer wearables.
However, $10 is not the price point that will enable pervasive IoX connectivity. The market for smart devices, many of which are very low cost (light bulbs, for example), requires modules much cheaper than that – $1 per module is going to be a price point for many devices.
Still, this module can find a home in the more expensive IoX devices such as major appliances, home electronics, security, and high-end wearables, for example.
However, there is some question as to how efficient and effective this technology will be on 4G networks. The gotcha here is LPWA networks have to be able to connect to the infrastructure, and the current model is generally through fiber or microwave backhaul.
As well, LPWA networks (unlike LTE) are available to non-mobile network operators because they can operate over unlicensed spectrum, including the <1 GHz ISM bands, TV white-space and the medical, industrial bands. So carriers may have issues with whomever owns or operates these networks. Maybe that is why Verizon is getting into the game with their own devices.
Also, there are substantial technical drawbacks to LPWA that reduce their prospective usefulness for many IoT use-cases. These include lower immunity to interference; limited protocol support for key features such as firmware updates and device management, and security concerns. There are also some vendor-specific reasons such as lengthy latency periods. Furthermore, not all IoT use-cases involve sensors and ultra-low data overheads.
While LPWA offers several advantages that may appear compelling to consumers, the stability and standardization of operating on global LTE bandwidth has yet to be established.