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Verizon to launch wireless Cat M1 network nationwide to juice IoT

Matt Hamblen | March 31, 2017
Chipsets for Cat M1 low-power devices have dropped drastically in the past year.

Verizon on Friday will launch a nationwide wireless network designed to help developers, businesses, utilities and municipalities deploy secure internet-of-things devices at lower cost.

The Verizon 4G LTE Category M1 (Cat M1) network will span 2.4 million square miles and will be the first of its kind, the company said.

Many IoT technologies have been slow to catch on, but Verizon's Cat M1 and similar networks will be game changers for IoT deployments, said Steve Hilton, an IoT analyst at Machnation.

Cat M1 is a low-power, wide area network (LPWAN) technology that competes most directly with other LPWAN networks like LoRa, Sigfox and Narrowband IoT, Hilton said. Cat M1 and Narrowband run on licensed spectrum, while the others run on unlicensed spectrum.

However, Verizon believes Cat M1 will also compete against Bluetooth, ZigBee and Z-Wave, wireless local area network (WLAN) technologies that connect to devices like thermostats and a wide array of appliances, such as washing machines and dryers.

"Cat M1 competes directly with Zigbee, Z-Wave and … Bluetooth," said Mike Lanman, Verizon senior vice president for IoT, in an interview. He added, however, "there will always be other connecting technologies, and some might make more sense economically."

Hilton agreed that some companies and utilities might want to deploy a Cat M1  approach and pay Verizon a monthly charge for the wireless service instead of managing a WLAN themselves.

"It really depends on how long the enterprise expects the device to live, how much management control the enterprise wants over the IoT network and relative prices," Hilton said.


Where Cat M1 might be deployed

Devices running Cat M1, such as water and power meters and asset trackers,  will get longer battery life and can be left unattended for up to a decade, Lanman said. The Cat M1 network will also provide broader and more consistent coverage, reaching areas like basements, and devices that are in-ground or behind walls.

Cat M1 operates at lower bandwidth than 4G LTE, usually between 300Kbps and 400Kbps. Verizon typically provides 4G LTE bandwidth download speeds of 5Mbps to 12Mbps.

Cat M1 would be suitable for wireless connections to devices like water meters that need to send their on-off status or usage readings on an hourly, weekly or monthly basis. It would be unsuitable for connecting to video monitors or devices needing fast video streams, Lanman said.


Cheaper chip modules

The economic benefits of using Cat M1 have improved greatly in the past year, Lanman noted. A year ago, a chipset for a Cat M1 device would have cost $15, but that price is now down to about $8. Verizon offers certified chipsets and devices for Cat M1 from Sequans Communications, Telit Communications, Qualcomm, Encore Networks, Link Labs and NimbeLink.


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