AT&T to launch network for Internet of Things

AT&T to launch network for Internet of Things

SAN RAMON — In the very near future, the pallets used in warehouses and on trucks to help move products, the water meter attached to your house and even the soda fountain at your favorite restaurant may all be connected to the internet.

On Tuesday, AT&T announced that by the end of June it will be turning on some new technology nationwide that will help devices such as these go online. Dubbed LTE-M, the technology was designed for the Internet of Things.

“We’re showing that not only is it real, but it’s crossing many different industries,” said Chris Penrose, the company’s president of Internet of Things solutions, at a press event here on Tuesday.

LTE-M is a version of the same cellular technology that’s used by smartphones to get high-speed connections to the internet. But the technology has been tuned for use by everyday objects and gadgets rather than powerful computers and phones.

It uses a fraction of the energy required by regular LTE radios; LTE-M devices could last as long as 10 years on a single charge, according to industry estimates. The technology can also penetrate walls that are up to 8 inches thicker than what standard cellular signals can penetrate, according to AT&T offices. That could prove useful for objects and devices that are located deep inside buildings or in other areas that have a lot of interference.

LTE-M only allows for a trickle of data — about 386 kilobits a second, compared to 100 megabits a second or more for the latest versions of LTE. But that’s generally sufficient for Internet of Things devices, which are usually transmitting small bits of data, such as their location or the gallons of water used in a particular time period.

Much of the talk around the Internet of Things has focused on connecting consumer products like cars, watches, fridges and toasters to the internet. But the companies represented at AT&T’s event indicated that connecting smart “things” designed for use by corporations and other organizations could be just as important. And AT&T’s LTE-M technology could be used for both.

In AT&T’s offices here, Darren Koenig, senior director of digital innovation at Pepsico, showed off a soda fountain that allows consumers to customize their drinks with extra flavors. The machine can allow the company to keep track of what types of flavors and drinks are preferred in particular cities or areas of the country. In that way, the machines can act like miniature focus groups wherever they’re placed, Koenig said.

The soda fountains can already be connected to the internet using older cellular technologies. But the radios used to connect to LTE-M can be much smaller than older ones, which will allow Pepsi to build them into the soda fountains, rather than having to attach them outside of them, Koenig said. The technology’s ability to penetrate walls will allow the company to place the machines in areas it couldn’t before, he said. And with prices of the radio modules coming down, Pepsi will be able to incorporate them into more machines, he said.

“There’s the opportunity for us to expand this to more people,” Koenig said.

RM2, a global supply chain company, has developed a new kind of pallet that has an LTE-M radio built into it, which Matthew Gilfillan, CEO of the company’s America’s division, showed off here. The pallets are made from composite materials that are designed to last far longer than standard wooden ones. The LTE-M radios will allow RM2 and its clients to keep track of the pallets and the goods that sit on them as they’re transported around the country and world. Theft and loss of goods and pallets is a significant expense that many companies face.

The pallet market alone could be a big one for the Internet of Things. As Gilfillan noted, there are some 4 billion pallets in use in the United States alone.

But AT&T subscribers shouldn’t worry that having all those pallets and other devices on the network is going to make it impossible to watch Netflix or make a call, AT&T representatives said. Not only do such devices use very little data, they are essentially turned off and not connected to the network most of the time, said David Allen, AT&T’s director of IoT advanced product development.

What may be more worrisome to consumers are the kinds of smart meters that will be using the LTE-M technology. Capstone Metering CEO Scott Williamson showed how one of his company’s smart water meters could allow a utility company or customer to tell when a toilet flapper wasn’t working correctly and causing the commode to flush regularly. The data collected from such smart meters could even potentially show whether people washed their hands after they flushed. A utility also could use such a meter to alert a customer a water leak or other trouble in near real-time, Williamson said.

AT&T hasn’t said yet how much it plans to charge companies to connect their Internet of Things devices to its LTE-M network. But it’s considering charging them on a per bit or per device basis, Penrose said.

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Published at Wed, 15 Feb 2017 00:11:26 +0000