Much of the Internet of Things will run on the same networks that smartphones use, cellular giant Verizon says.
Despite the prospect of new networks that reach farther than cells and let IoT devices communicate for years on one battery charge, many of the power-sipping networked objects to be deployed in the coming years will use LTE and future 5G cellular systems, a Verizon executive said in an interview Wednesday.
Many legacy IoT devices, also called M2M (machine-to-machine), use 2G or 3G networks now. Carriers want to phase those out in the coming years to shift their frequencies over to newer networks.
Verizon wants to be a one-stop shop for IoT, the collection of sensors, wearable devices and networked machines that's now rolling out around the world. It's an important growth opportunity for the carrier, one of the two dominant mobile operators in the U.S., though Verizon says it's got services to offer IoT companies even if they use someone else's network.
The LTE technology that is the bread and butter of Verizon and other cellular carriers is designed primarily for bandwidth-heavy smartphone uses like games, voice calls and videos. Now there are alternatives emerging that are like cellular in some ways but designed specifically for IoT. They're coming from upstarts like SigFox, which builds networks it says are slower but cheaper than LTE.
These LPWANs (low-power, wide-area networks) are tailor made for IoT devices, which typically use only small amounts of data and may have to work untouched for years in remote locations. SigFox, for one, has networks spanning most of France and Spain and plans to cover 10 major U.S. cities by early 2016. The first of those systems, in San Francisco, is now being developed in partnership with city government. Other vendors and industry groups are also pursuing new LPWANs.
Machina Research expects more than 3 billion devices to be connected to LPWANs by 2023.
Verizon says better and cheaper chips from the vast LTE ecosystem, including silicon vendors like Intel and Sequans, will make LTE competitive with LPWANs. So-called Category 0 and Category 1 LTE devices, some of which are already commercially available for use on Verizon's network, will have battery life of one to five years, depending on the application, said Mark Bartolomeo, Verizon's vice president of IoT and connected solutions. The cost of IoT chip modules will fall below US$2 as economies of scale grow, he said.
Early next year, Verizon will roll out a new, more efficient network core just for IoT. It won't have back-end processes that were designed for connecting with smartphones but aren't needed for the new types of devices. This will lower costs and let Verizon scale up its network for the shift from millions to billions of connections, said Mike Lanman, Verizon's senior vice president of enterprise and IoT products.
Those changes, along with the evolution of standards toward the 5G specification expected in 2020, will make LTE well suited to IoT over time.