Carriers expand low power services in Q3 of 2018

/ Written By Ben Forgan

Hologram has over 500 carrier partners, so we keep an eye out for when each carrier deploys new cellular technology. Below we outline the new deployments we’re tracking for Q3 of 2018.

Because of our proprietary software layer that sits between the SIM and carrier networks, Hologram customers gain access to new network capabilities as they come online. This happens automatically with every Global SIM card already installed in users’ devices. If your device is capable of talking on the new carrier technology, your Hologram SIM has access.

If you’re planning a hardware deployment and interested in Cat-M1 connectivity our team can help. Schedule a call with our sales engineers today.

More access in the US and Mexico

Early trends in the US showed that targeting LTE-M devices was the best path forward for early low power cellular capabilities. Both Verizon and ATT had deployments by late 2017 with the only NB-IoT network being a T-mobile test site out in Las Vegas. There are plans for T-mobile to roll out broader coverage in the US in 2018, but it has not gone into effect yet.

The options are opening up for providers as AT&T announced that they will also be rolling out NB-IOT capabilities in the US and Mexico. Verizon has also been testing NB-IoT and has promised coverage across the US by the end of 2018. This means a range of existing low-cost products and projects will now work inside the states. Better yet, there will be redundant support for NB-IOT inside of the US with all 3 carriers (down from 4 since the Sprint/T-mobile merger announcement) covering this low power cellular band.

More choices in the Netherlands

As far as low power cellular goes in Europe, NB-IoT is the default choice right now. Deutsch Telekom and Vodafone have large deployments of NB-IoT towers and continue to roll out service; they are also experimenting with roaming across networks throughout Europe, one of the stumbling blocks to NB-IoT adoption. Less prevalent in Europe has been LTE-M (or LTE Cat M1). The map below shows the current national rollout of various services, as reported by the GSMA. However, T-mobile is testing a new LTE-M rollout in the Netherlands, in addition to their existing NB-IoT deployments.

China targeting NB-IOT

As the default hardware maker of the world, China will both produce and consume LTE-M/Cat M1 as well as NB-IOT. Right now, China is investing in NB-IoT for city-wide (Smart City) deployments. IoT pundit Stacey Higgenbotham writes about the rising tide for NB-IoT in China, driven by governmental decisions.

What does this mean for you?

Eventually, we expect that all carriers will have both LTE-M and NB-IoT service, given the different markets each target. For our audience of developers and small business owners, we suggest the following steps to ensure a seamless transition to lower power, lower cost operations via these new technologies.

  • Understand the technology’s limits – The new LTE options offer massive power savings over their predecessors but those savings come at the loss of features and limitations. For instance, most carriers are limiting each LTE-M device to 50MB per month and do not support voice calls. NB-IoT adds on to these limitations by not encouraging downlink transfers and not supporting SMS or tower hand-off.
  • Find the most flexible hardware you can – A modem/module that can cover 2G, 3G and all modes of LTE (4G) is a valuable piece of hardware. It allows maximum coverage for current coverage and future proofs for new deployments. We believe a multi-band modem with firmware that is compatible with new LTE coverage types will serve users best. Here are some current and upcoming options:
    • The Quectel BG96, a module offering global LTE-M and NB-IoT coverage with quad-band GSM 2G fallback. Includes an integrated GPS.
    • The SIMCom SIM7000E, a slightly larger module offering LTE-M and NB-IoT regional coverage with quad-band GSM fallback and integrated GPS. Only the Europe version has the 2G fallback with the US version (SIM7000A) removing support. There is a global SIM7000 in the works which will likely include 2G for the US.
    • The uBlox SARA R412, a small module targeted at LTE-M and NB-IoT applications with quad-band GSM 2G fallback support. Currently only available for pre-order.
  • Target a constrained market first – Though large businesses can deploy their technology to multiple marketplaces all at once, small businesses focus on test markets. They need to understand their customers’ challenges before expanding. This can even mean targeting a city, instead of a country. For instance, Vodafone rolled out NB-IoT coverage to individual cities before promising coverage throughout the entire country. A small company could have tested new hardware in Utrect before rolling out to the rest of the country or more broadly to Europe.
  • Understand the carriers in your target market – Tied to the above, understanding which carriers offer coverage in your target area is a good starting point. This will also reduce the overall risk of coverage by having backup carriers. Using a device like the Hologram Nova and issuing a command like “sudo hologram modem operator” will show which carrier you’re using and which are available. Other modems/devices have ways of checking the available carriers, normally issuing an AT command like “AT+COPS=?”. Or you can use online resources like OpenSignal to check the coverage in your area.
  • Use a flexible, global SIM card – Regardless of your setup, using a flexible SIM card will be your best option. As mentioned at the top of this article, having flexible hardware and a Hologram SIM card means you get access to new technology as soon as it comes online.

Small businesses are more concerned about keeping their doors open and serving their customers more than chasing the latest technology. But new options like LTE-M and NB-IoT will enable lower power and lower cost products that ultimately serve clientele better. Here at Hologram, we serve our customers by ensuring you have access to new technologies as they become available.

Want to chat more about coverage areas and large fleet pricing? Schedule a call with our sales team.