Connect the Dots: AT&T Makes Carrier-Grade, Long-Range IoT Easy

Patrick Mannion's picture

The launch of a $59 LTE Cat-1 IoT starter kit at CES 2017 that includes AWS cloud connectivity makes carrier-grade security and reliability a lot simpler.

During last week’s CES 2017, AT&T leveraged the popular event to launch a $59 IoT starter kit. The new offering will help solution providers get up and running quickly on Amazon Web Services (AWS) over the carrier’s highly secure LTE Cat-1 cellular network. The quick-start theme was further supported by an accompanying announcement of a Raspberry Pi add-on kit.

Category 1 for cellular networks was part of the original 3GPP LTE specification announced in 2008, but since then, the carriers have focused on higher-speed Category 3 and Category 4 implementations to cater to mobile data devices. However, carriers like AT&T and Verizon tested the IoT waters and are now jumping in enthusiastically.

For developers of IoT solutions, this good news adds yet more intensity to the competition for better-performing, long-range, low-power, radio links that are more suited to IoT’s low-duty-cycle, widely dispersed, sensing model. Bluetooth, Wi-Fi and ZigBee didn’t have the right combination of range and low power, while cellular infrastructure wasn’t focused on IoT.

Among network providers, France-based SigFox saw the gap in 2009 and has been deploying a long-range wireless IoT option with much success in Europe. It recently got Series E funding to deploy globally into 26 countries and currently has 10 million “objects” on its network. In the United States, LoRaWAN has been embraced by a number of companies as part of the LoRa Alliance, starting with Semtech, which developed the specification and its first ICs.

While options are always good to have, carriers bring a level of certainty with regard to security, one of the most critical aspects of IoT deployment. AT&T is also very quick to partner with the right companies (as are SigFox and the LoRa Alliance). With the new the starter kit, AT&T partnered with Amazon for the cloud connectivity and Avnet for the hardware development and kit distribution. It’s worth noting that the price is $40 less than the original kit announced just a few months ago. The statement is clear: AT&T is serious and aggressive about IoT.

For hardware, the kit comprises the LTE Cat-1 modem, a U.S. and Mexico SIM card with 300 Mbytes of prepaid data (good for six months), two antennas, two USB cables, USB plug, an NXP K64K development board and a microSD card for storing credentials and configuration files.

AT&T IoT Starter Kit

AT&T’s starter kit costs $59 and includes an LTE Cat-1 modem to address the need for reliable, secure, long-range IoT connectivity.

Along with AWS, the software support includes native support within AT&T’s Flow Designer for PubNub’s Data Stream Network (DSN) and an API. PubNub BLOCKS make the DSN programmable, so developers can run application logic on data as it passes through the network. This extends capabilities, while circumventing the need to deploy and scale application servers.

AT&T is encouraging developers to use the kit with a competition for the best design, but IoT solution providers face enough competition just meeting customer requirements. Along with security, reliability is another requirement for IoT. For wireless, carriers have another advantage when it comes to reliability. They have licensed bands so users have less to worry about with regard to interference. AT&T also provides qualification testing for devices operating in its bands. While that can seem onerous, AT&T is helping to accelerate the process with interoperability labs set up just for IoT developers.

Being operator certified with AWS cloud connectivity is a good bargaining chip for any solution provider, and it seems AT&T is working hard to make it even easier to get off the ground.