It hasn’t been officially announced yet, but Samsung is planning to release the SmartThings Tracker, a small device with Bluetooth LE, Wi-Fi, GPS and — in a first for U.S. consumer products — NB-IoT network support, although there’s a small chance it could use a Cat-M1 network instead.
I know this because I found the SmartThings Tracker’s wireless testing test results on the FCC’s site. And it makes sense as Samsung debuted a similar product in Korea that can use either NB-IoT or LTE Cat-M1 networks last year called the Samsung Connect Tag, shown here:
Think of the SmartThings Tracker like a Tile or TrackR Bluetooth tag on steroids. You’ll be able to attach it to your car keys, a backpack, luggage or anything else you’d like the track the location of. Unlike a traditional tracking device though, you’ll be able to find out where the tag is even when it’s beyond the relatively short range of Bluetooth or Wi-Fi.
That’s where the NB-IoT, or Narrowband IoT, radio comes in. Because of that, I anticipate Samsung’s new tracker to cost more than a typical Bluetooth device; my guess would be around $30, give or take a few bucks.
With an NB-IoT radio, the SmartThings tracker will be able to communicate its location back to you wherever there’s NB-IoT network coverage. Frankly, this type of network is perfect for this purpose because you don’t need the tracker to send a ton of data; it simply needs to read and relay its location to you. Since it’s branded as a SmartThings device, you’ll likely use the SmartThings app on your mobile device to see where the tracker is. I don’t use SmartThings any longer, so this product is a no-go for me.
The Korean version has a button — seen at the top of the device schematic — that when pressed can send a location to contacts. The device can also be used for geofencing: When you enter or leave an pre-determined GPS area, you could have your SmartThings hub turn devices on or off, for example.
While the inclusion of this new network type is interesting by itself, I’m more interested in what the pricing will be for the network plan. When Samsung debuted the Connect Tag in Korea, it said that service would likely be around $2 per month. Since the FCC documents have a VZW mention on them, I suspect the SmartThings Tracker will work work solely with Verizon, at least at first. If another carrier planned to sell the device with support for different network bands, the FCC would also test with them and I haven’t yet seen evidence of that. (Note: See update below as there is now an AT&T version of the device as well.)
Verizon deployed a Cat-M1 network in 2017 and earlier this year said it would roll out a nationwide NB-IoT network in 2018. The FCC documents show testing of LTE Bands 4 and 13 for the SmartThings Tracker, referencing a Cat-M network, but there are other references to NB-IoT as well. No radio upgrade will be needed for Samsung’s SmartThings hub because the tracker should send its location to Samsung’s SmartThings servers, which will relay the information to users of the SmartThings app.
So it’s a safe assumption that Verizon service is what you’ll need for the SmartThings Tracker. Typically, Verizon’s data plans for mobile devices are among the more expensive. IoT devices are different though, so service should only be a few dollars a month. Indeed, Verizon’s current Machine to Machine business plans offer 1 MB per month for $5 on its Cat-M1 network. The SmartThings Tracker likely won’t fall under Verizon’s M2M business plans and Verizon hasn’t announced NB-IoT data plans, so we should see some consumer options roll out in conjunction with this device launch.
Again, this is the first consumer IoT device using a network specifically for low-bandwidth applications, so there’s no precedent here. We’ll have to see how Samsung prices the device and what Verizon charges for the service. I don’t think either will break the bank, but costs and demand will both indicate to other device makers and network providers what the market is willing to bear.
Assuming this type of device would be useful to you, what would you be willing to pay on a monthly basis to remotely track your personal possessions?
Update: After this post was published, I found FCC test results for an AT&T compatible version as well. The post title was updated to reflect this development.