T-Mobile launches narrowband IoT network

T-Mobile's NB-IoT network has launched across the United States, providing coverage to 2.1 million square miles and around 320 million people.
Written by Corinne Reichert, Contributor

T-Mobile has launched its narrowband Internet of Things (NB-IoT) network across the United States, with 5G SVP and IoT business chief Dave Mayo telling ZDNet that the network covers 2.1 million square miles and approximately 320 million people.

Speaking with ZDNet, Mayo said the NB-IoT network deployment was "pretty straightforward", involving hardware upgrades in older basebands and new radio software.

T-Mobile's primary vendors were Ericsson and Nokia, though the carrier also worked with Qualcomm on the narrowband chipsets. It had initially trialled NB-IoT a year ago in partnership with the City of Las Vegas, Ericsson, and Qualcomm.

It also utilised existing licensed spectrum for the network -- the guard bands between its adjacent 4G LTE spectrum holdings, with narrowband operating in 200KHz channels.

"We've got multiple blocks of spectrum that we've attributed to LTE, and what narrowband gives us the capability of doing is utilising those guard bands that live between the bands that we own to deploy this technology, so effectively it's utilising ... spectrum that otherwise would not be utilised," he explained to ZDNet.

"It's part of the licensed structure, but the way spectrum is licensed in the US ... you own blocks but between the blocks there's a guard band, and that guard band keeps us separated, keeps operators separated from one another, but because we own adjacent blocks, we could use that guard band that lives in the middle."

According to T-Mobile, it is the first carrier globally to use these guard bands for an NB-IoT rollout. An added benefit to using the guard bands is that the network lives and operates within the LTE standard, which he said is more secure for connecting things than Wi-Fi.

From a consumer and business perspective, Mayo said narrowband deployments of IoT have the benefit of being very low power, which means sensors can operate for a long period of time -- up to 10 years -- without the need to replace batteries.

"From an operator perspective, the benefit is that we'll be able to address a whole lot of use cases that we couldn't previously address," he added, pointing towards tracking, sensing, transportation, and moisture content use cases, for instance.

Claiming that its NB-IoT rates are one-tenth the cost of connecting to Verizon's Cat-M IoT network, T-Mobile is charging $6 per year per device for up to 12MB.

The company also announced its new IoT partner program called T-Mobile Connect, which it said would "help IoT solution providers collaborate" in an effort to bring services to market faster.

"Our aim really with the Connect program ... is to move the business a little bit further away from just the wholesale connectivity business into a business that is selling solutions rather than just connectivity," Mayo told ZDNet.

"On the consumer side as well as the enterprise and government channels ... they can really leverage some of these solutions and take them to market in a way that many of the companies and the space can't scale too quickly."

According to Mayo, IoT is important not only to T-Mobile's networks strategy but also its overarching business strategy, particularly over the next four to five years.

"I think that the opportunities particularly in the industrial side that they're going to be able to adopt with IoT, enabled by a low-latency, high-bandwidth 5G network that's capable of creating unique slices for different applications has the potential to change the world and change the way we do things," he said.

Must-read: 5G networks need US government help: T-Mobile CTO

Mayo also provided ZDNet with an update on T-Mobile's 5G rollout, saying the purchase of Sprint rounds out its 5G spectrum play. Calling the Sprint deal "a watershed moment" for the company, Mayo said it means T-Mobile has the breadth of low band, the depth of millimetre-wave (mmWave) in urban areas, and a swathe of mid-band spectrum in metro areas.

"You're probably aware that we wrote a cheque for $8 billion last year to purchase 600MHz spectrum, and we're in the very early stages of deploying that spectrum and anticipate that sometime in late 2019 or early 2020, we'll have nationwide coverage with 600MHz," he said.

"We really bulked up on 600MHz spectrum, purchasing an average of 31MHz nationwide, and there are a lot of markets that we acquired 40MHz and even 50MHz of 600MHz spectrum.

"In addition, we'll begin deploying around the fourth quarter 5G in the millimetre-wave frequencies in selected cities.

"Our impending Sprint transaction and when the deal is approved, we'll be very anxiously deploying 5G in the Sprint 2.5 mid-band spectrum frequencies."

The cell rate on mmWave frequencies will necessitate the deployment of potentially hundreds of thousands of additional cell sites, Mayo said, explaining that 5G won't happen overnight.

On top of the fastest network crown in the US that it was awarded earlier this week by Ookla, Mayo said T-Mobile is "going to keep adding those crowns".

"5G and IoT really live together in the same breath," he said.

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