Ericsson announced at Mobile World Congress that Telstra has deployed its software to upgrade the entire Telstra cellular network to support the 3GPP CAT-M1 technology designed for IoT.
The move potentially puts Telstra into head-on competition with companies like Thinxtra and NNN Co that are rolling out LP WAN networks using, respectively Sigfox and LoRaWAN technologies, both of which, unlike CAT-M1, operate in unlicensed spectrum.
The announcement follows Ericsson announcing last November that, along with Qualcomm, it had “executed network and device testing of data communications on Cat-M1,” for Telstra at its headquarters in Sweden.
According to Ericsson, “Cat-M1 technology is suited for IoT use cases like telematics, wearables and smart metering. By supporting massive amounts of lower-cost devices, Ericsson network software enables Telstra to accelerate Australia’s IoT ecosystem.”
CAT-M1, a variant of LTE, uses 1.4MHz of bandwidth compared to 20MHz for LTE and has a much lower data rate of a 200kbps upstream. Another variant under development, CAT-M2, will use less spectrum and have even lower data rates. Like the LP WAN technologies, CAAT-M1 is claimed to work with devices that can run of 10 years of a small battery.
According to Ericsson, Cat-M1 is ideally suited to use cases requiring mobility, voice support and moderate bitrates in the order of hundreds of kbps, like vehicle telematics, asset tracking, consumer and healthcare wearables, and smart electricity metering.
The Yield in CAT-M1 trials
Ericsson said Telstra had commenced testing Cat-M1 functionality in customer trials in Melbourne and Tasmania. The Tasmanian trial is being undertaken with Tasmanian agricultural IoT specialist The Yield.
According to Ericsson, “live telemetry data including leaf wetness, soil moisture, soil temperature, rainfall, solar radiation, wind speed and direction [are being] collected from sensors at Pooley Wines in regional Tasmania.”
No CAT-M1 devices yet
At present, however, commercial services are limited by the lack of CAT-M1 devices. Mike Wright, Telstra group managing director networks, said Cat-M1 devices were expected to become available in Australia in 2017, but gave no more precise information.
US device manufacturer, Quectel, announced in January that it was using Qualcomm Technologies’ MDM9206 Cat-M1 LTE modem to manufacture modules for Verizon, which it expected to be available in early 2017.
Wright said that, in addition to its low device power and low bit rate features “Cat-M1 can enhance LTE coverage for underground and in-building areas that challenge existing coverage.”
CAT-M1 v LoRaWAN, v Sigfox
The jury still seems to out on the relative merits of LoRaWAN and CAT-M1. In a detailed comparison of the two technologies, published in early February, an article in Future Electronics magazine concluded: “There are a number of tradeoffs when deciding whether to choose a LoRaWAN or LTE Cat M1 network for an application. Both protocols have been well designed for low power, low data rate and long range and both fill a niche in the market, so perhaps there is enough room for two Kings of the LPWAN ring!”
Many mobile network operators that are likely to adopt CAT-M1 are rolling out, or have rolled out large scale LoRaWAN networks.