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Cellular IoT to dominate asset tracking as 80% of devices offer NB-IoT, LTE-M

More than 80 percent of original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) in the asset tracking space are releasing products for cellular low-power wide-area (LPWA) network connectivity, with high growth in LTE-M trackers as mobile operators rollout LTE-M networks.

Tech advisory firm ABI Research polled 43 “major” OEMs, and found 82 percent of their asset tracking devices are offering cellular LPWA connectivity. It noted the pace of LTE-based and 5G-compatible NB-IoT and LTE-M deployments has accelerated, with 154 networks supporting one or other in operation to date.

ABI forecasts the number of connections on cellular LPWA IoT networks will overtake the number on proprietary LPWA IoT networks, from the likes of LoRaWAN and Sigfox, after 2023. Proprietary LPWA technologies have so far propped up much of the IoT market.

A significant number of IoT makers are increasingly offering a multiple choice of connectivity variants in their asset tracking devices and solutions, said ABI, which combine both short-range wireless and/or wide-area network communication types, in order to ensure continuous connectivity in different settings or regions.

This kind of connectivity agnostic approach is taken by OEMs including Digital Matter, CoreKinect, Accent Systems, and FFLY4U, noted ABI. It contrasts with a vertically-oriented approach by some others which prescribes either cellular LPWA or proprietary LPWA technologies for niche use cases.

As Enterprise IoT Insights has discussed at length, the availability of different connectivity technologies at hardware level, along with expanded sensor capabilities is driving new use cases in the field of asset tracking. New use-cases are also being driven by government regulation in pharmaceutical, food and beverage, excisable goods, and maritime markets.

ABI noted the work of regulatory bodies such as the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which is putting technology at the “heart of the next generation of granular tracking”. Companies such as Emerson and Sensitech are actively pursuing regulation-driven asset tracking markets.

ABI said this growing diversity of use-cases, spurred by the wider availability of cellular IoT, plus the need to offer easy to deploy and scale solutions, is moving asset tracking towards a “mainstream enterprise requirement”.

Tancred Taylor, research analyst at ABI Research, commented: “Enterprises are increasingly moving past the proof-of-concept stage and toward volume adoption, driven by lower device costs, greater network coverage, and superior device functionality. The range of emerging use-cases requires a highly flexible hardware ecosystem, with customization frequently needed on a hardware level to address use-case diversity.”

He added: “Asset tracking has reached a point where technological barriers are of decreasing importance. Systems for driving operational visibility and transparency are increasingly becoming ‘need-to-have’, and suppliers are taking an increasingly proactive role in addressing and anticipating industry pain-points. As tracker price points fall, industry and government are realizing the return on investment from visibility systems in a realm of new applications and business models. OEMs with flexibility at their heart will be in a particularly strong position to take advantage of this rapidly-growing market.”

The findings are part of a new analysis on asset tracking companies, which goes in hand with a related report on the technologies in play in the space. ABI said this week shipments of asset trackers will increase by more than 50 percent annually through 2024, driven by growth in LPWA networks and smaller, cheaper and smarter IoT devices.

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