Telstra is ready to support the Internet of Things. That's what it's saying is the purpose behind adding support for the low-speed, energy-efficient Category 1 standard to its nationwide 4GX network, and it's also working to adopt the Category M and Narrow Band-IoT standards that could see 4G-connected devices scattered across your house and workplace with battery life of up to 10 years.
In a post on Telstra's Exchange blog yesterday, group managing director of networks Mike Wright compared the potential of Cat 1 4G to the telco's previous Australia-first adoptions of Category 4 and faster high-speed 4G networks by saying that it was equally important to add support for efficient, low-power, ubiquitous data-connected devices. "Just as the road network is designed to carry vehicles with many different loads, speeds, fuel requirements, and even off road adventure plans, so is the LTE service on our mobile network designed to efficiently carry the widely varying data demands of our customers.
"The standards (as shaped by the industry to ensure IoT evolves in the same direction) define some of these different performance standards as Categories or Cats (not because the internet plays lots of cat videos). With the explosion in demand to connect all types of things to the internet in order to track, monitor and control our world from water meters to environmental sensors, there is a range of Categories designed to support different usage types."
Category 1 LTE chips, and future low-power Internet of Things devices, need to have much lower cost per LTE chip to drive mass adoption, as well as longer battery life — up to 10 years — to allow them to function without regular interaction from users. Wright also pointed to in-building coverage — likely using Telstra's share of the pervasive, long-range and structure-penetrating 700MHz '4GX' frequency band that it has purchased from government — as a neccessity for widespread IoT connectivity.
The way to achieve these compromises in the real world, Telstra says, can be as simple as lowering the data rate. That's what Category 1 does, with support for speeds of up to 10Mbps download and 5Mbps upload for compatible devices. Devices supporting the Category 1 standard should produce very little tangible data in reality anyway, so lower data rates is not an impediment to introduction and adoption. In the future, standards like Cat M and NB-IoT should increase throughput while still lowering energy usage.
Telstra will be working with one of its major network partners in Ericsson and chipmaker Sequans to trial Cat 1 devices on the company's network, and will introduce compatible devices in the next couple of months. The potential of Cat M and NB-IoT standards in the future, Wright said, will be huge in extending Telstra's reach both geographically and in the breadth and variety of low-power, IoT-esque devices supported. [Telstra]