NB-IoT and LTE-M to usurp unlicensed LPWA as the go-to choice for IoT by 2023
The rate of growth of licensed low-power, wide-area (LPWA) network connections will outpace their unlicensed equivalents as the LPWA market swells by 53 per cent per year over the next five years. By 2023, NB-IoT and LTE-M will capture more than 55 per cent of LPWA connections, as Sigfox and LoRa cede market share dominance for the first time.
A report by ABI Research reckons licensed and unlicensed LPWA connections will see a combined compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 53 per cent in the period to 2023, driven by growth in smart meters and asset trackers. In 2017, smart meters and asset trackers contributed to almost three-quarters of all LPWA network connections, and will continue to drive growth, said ABI.
The company did not explain which industrial sector will contribute to the accelerated growth of licensed cellular LPWA connections, but said asset tracking will have the largest share of global LPWA connections in 2023, accounting for over 45 per cent, and smart meters deployed by energy and water utilities will have the second largest, with at least a third.
Non-cellular LPWA technologies will capture two-thirds of the LPWA connections in smart meters by 2023, it said; ABI did not provide an equivalent measure for asset tracking. Growth in cellular LPWA connections will accelerate as the geographic footprint of public networks expands, with licensed operators deploying NB-IoT and LTE-M on existing LTE infrastructure throughout their markets.
In total, cellular and non-cellular public networks will capture at least 70 per cent of LPWA connections by 2023, said ABI. In 2017, as much as 93 per cent of LPWA connections were on private networks.
Adarsh Krishnan, principal analyst at ABI Research, said: “Asset tracking applications traditionally relied on complex, expensive solutions to track high-value assets. LPWA network technologies are making it feasible to build simple, small, and low-cost footprint devices that can track and monitor everything from sea-freight containers to bicycles, patients to pets, supermarket trolleys to pallets, paving the way for new innovative solutions and business opportunities.”
LoRa and Sigfox, frequently paired together but technically different, remain the default choice for low-maintenance, low-revenue ‘internet of things’ connections; their popularity, in private and public networks, respectively, has coincided with their decreasing infrastructure and implementation costs.
ABI said LoRa has made ground as the popular choice for private networks, built to address a single vertical application or an individual enterprise, with 54 per cent growth in 2017. ZTE’s China LoRa Application Alliance (CLAA), which has seen i40 LoRa networks deployed in 40 Chinese cities, has been significant for its growth, noted ABI, and is boosting deployment of LoRa-based smart meters, parking sensors, and air-quality monitoring sensors.
Meanwhile, Sigfox is the leading technology for public LPWA networks, presently, with the largest share of public LPWA connections in 2017, buoyed by its “first-mover advantage” in Europe. The roll-out of the Monarch cognitive network in early 2018, enabling Sigfox devices to automatically adapt to radio frequency changes and roam across Sigfox networks, has been key, said ABI.
Sigfox increased coverage in the US market by 50 per cent in 2017. Unlicensed networks, mostly based on Sigfox and LoRaWAN, make up two-thirds of LPWA networks today, according to a separate study . A third of the total network deployments are geared towards smart city applications.
Sigfox last week struck a deal with mapping company HERE to create a global IoT location service for the supply chain and logistics industry. The deal will see Sigfox’s LPWA network and geolocation engine supplemented Wi-Fi hotspot coverage from Dutch firm HERE.
The deal followed confirmation from the GSMA that Deutsche Telekom and Vodafone have completed roaming tests on NB-IoT, a licensed LPWA equivalent, in Spain and Austria; the announcement noted the importance of roaming to cross-border IoT services in the supply chain, logistics and transportation industries in particular.
The choice between licensed and unlicensed LPWA connectivity technologies is about use cases. But if both technologies fit, the choice comes down to a straight one of cost, and Sigfox does it better, WND, a conglomerate of Sigfox operators, said last month, in am extensive panel debate on money-making from LPWA technologies.