Fractus Antennas on 2021: After the gold rush (post-hype, when the real work begins)
Big brands will start to enter the IoT space more aggressively in 2021 with full end-to-end solutions, buying up successful companies either to avoid competition or else to complete their own portfolios. This will trigger regulators to set rules in the longer terms around data handling and data ownership. If they don’t set these rules, there will be rising demand in five years to split-up these mega companies with monopolies on machine data – much like we are seeing now with Facebook and Google, with regards to data exchanged by humans.
The market will also start to reshape itself in 2021 as many IoT companies have not yet reached break-even – and all the venture-capital money they received five years ago, when the IoT hype was at its peak, has run out. These venture funds will be forced to write-off or refinance their portfolio-companies, which will result in the collapse of many of these so-called ‘unicorn’ startups. It will be a busy market for mergers and acquisitions in 2021, with a number of surprising changes-of-strategy.
Whilst most of the value in the IoT chain goes upwards, there will be a continuing focus on edge devices. The drivers will be to optimize connectivity and coverage, and to extend the lifespan of devices. There are a couple of trends here. The first is that IoT devices will increasingly combine multiple radio technologies, notably taking advantage of long and short-range protocols in both licensed and unlicensed spectrum. An example of this will be IoT devices running licensed LTE and unlicensed LoRaWAN, with multi-channel GNSS, Wi-Fi, and / or BLE for indoor and outdoor tracking and easy provisioning.
The second trend is intelligence will continue to move to the edge, and onto devices themselves. Device-based artificial intelligence and machine learning will be engaged to keep decision-making local, and to avoid cloud connectivity, which is expensive and drains the battery. The other thing to add, related to power consumption, is energy harvesting will become more mature in 2021, and enter the mainstream in edge devices. We are nowhere near the end of the innovation curve so far as battery optimization is concerned.
It will be a decisive year for a number of IoT technologies, where a few will prevail and others become obsolete – or else become so niche their usage disappears into a few specific ‘verticals’. Proprietary and single-source connectivity solutions will struggle to survive, in any kind of productive commercial capacity; the IoT market will be dominated by standardized technologies, whether they are absorbed into the 5G domain or they find alternative standardization routes. In the end, a 50/50 balance will be struck in enterprise between public subscription-based technologies and private networks, from both an ROI perspective and as part of the discipline to keep data off the internet.
Finally, the coronavirus pandemic will not end in 2021, of course. And this rapidly-shifting landscape will continue to drive new IoT use cases, focused on the wellbeing and safety of staff in businesses and the general public at large. These will render some more traditional IoT use cases as ‘nice-to-have’. But the effect will be to spread awareness and acceptance of IoT technologies; the market will reassert its buoyancy, even if the idea of a sudden surge does not come.
Fractus Antennas, founded in 2015, is based in Barcelona. The company designs and manufactures off-the-shelf antennas for IoT, mobile connectivity. and short-range wireless devices. Jaap Groot is experienced executive in the IoT and M2M market. He has worked at Qualcomm, MiX Telematics, Sigfox, and Semtech.