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Bell’s LTE-M IoT Network Sets Stage for Low-Cost Service in Canada

Bell Canada’s network expected to spur developer activity, but ecosystem components, like low-cost devices and vendor choice, are still a ways off.

LTE-M IoT network technology will be available in Canada next year, as Bell Canada has announced plans to deploy the network that will allow low-power, low-frequency service at a lower cost to empower IoT deployments.

Bell is the first Canadian telecom to announce plans for the technology, but analysts agree that Vancouver-based Telus is not far behind. In the United States, Verizon and AT&T have already announced availability of LTE-M networks, with Sprint planning to launch a network by the end of July.

By extending the same technology available in the United States in Canada, Bell will ensure a seamless user experience for companies operating an IoT deployment across the two countries, said Michael Widner, director of product management for Bell, highlighting that importance for transportation industries. That, coupled with the decreasing cost barrier, will help fuel IoT adoption.

“This is a technology that brings the cost for the end user to a point where it’ll generate a lot of interest and a lot of deployments,” Widner said. “You’ll see a larger developer community that can take advantage of it at a cost point that can drive a lot of interest and a lot of use cases. The industry will be doing things with IoT we couldn’t have imagined.”

Bell has already announced several partnerships to that end. With BeWhere Inc., an Industrial IoT software company, it built an asset-tracking technology platform that will include, among other functionality, a motion-sensing capability that detects movement around medication. Bell has provided a grant that will allow students at the University of Manitoba to access LTE-M technology for developing IoT technologies for the agricultural and food science industries. And last week it announced an agreement with Hyundai AutoEver Telematics America (HATA) to deliver connected telematics services including security, safety, diagnostics and infotainment over its mobile networks to select Hyundai and Kia vehicles starting this summer.

Cellular engineers have designed LTE-M for long battery life, modest throughputs (1 Mbps max), and low-cost modems intended to be competitive with GSM modems that use General Packet Radio Service (GPRS). GPRS modems are the lowest-cost cellular modems available for IoT, according to a report titled “Mobile Broadband Transformation” by Peter Rysavy of Rysavy Research. If all goes as planned, LTE-M IoT modules, in volume, could drop below $10.

LTE-M will provide many low-frequency, low-data-rate applications like meter reading, lighting controls and tank-level reading solutions including many smart city, smart campus and smart home services, according to Mike Sapien, vice president and chief analyst for Ovum.

While it’s great to have this network in place, there are still some technology elements needed for full-scale LTE-M IoT deployment, like compatible, low-cost devices and vendor choice, according to Sapien.

“Once the devices are more available and there are choices along with the IoT ecosystem, including platforms, it will help speed some deployments; enhance existing solutions; provide broader, down-market solutions; and allow for IoT to be used in more creative, vertical solutions,” Sapien wrote in an email interview.

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