The growth in IoT device connections will rapidly accelerate over the next five years and will push OEMs and solution providers into unfamiliar wireless domains. Newer short- and long-range wireless technologies are finding traction in the market supporting a variety of IoT deployments. While established wireless communications such as 3G and Wi-Fi support many IoT workloads today, others such as LTE-M, NB-IoT and 5G are gaining ground and will be critical technologies through the next five years.
The number of devices using short-range IoT connectivity has been growing steadily, as technologies like Wi-Fi and Bluetooth are fairly mature but still evolving. Since the emergence of IoT, short-range connectivity has dominated in terms of device connections. This is mostly due to the relatively high costs and lack of indoor coverage associated with long-range IoT. In addition, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth are well established and supported, giving businesses the confidence that their solution will be viable through the next five years.
While many IoT devices may be connected using short-range connectivity, the number of long-range device connections is growing more rapidly. This growth can be attributed to the valuable IoT solutions that are now possible with newer cellular technologies. For example, 5G downlink/uplink times are approaching speeds normally associated with Wi-Fi, and with enough coverage its low latency will be able to support mission-critical and time-sensitive data. 5G has opened the door to new IoT opportunities for applications in AR/VR, remote surgery, and autonomous driving. Still, 5G is being used primarily by early adapters, as the current costs deter widespread adoption.
Other long-range communications types are also driving this growth such as LTE-M and NB-IoT. Presently, only a small fraction of cellular IoT devices operate on LTE-M or NB-IoT connections, as this technology is fairly new and hasn’t been fully adopted. Nonetheless, this growth is also associated with the shutdown of 3G networks. These technologies were designed for IoT, and are expected to operate beyond the lifetime of 4G LTE and co-exist with 5G. This gives businesses the security that solutions built with these technologies with be supported for many years into the future.
LTE-M and NB-IoT allow devices to operate on existing or subsets of LTE networks with less data and power consumption, optimizing them for massive IoT deployments. NB-IoT offers better range and indoor coverage than LTE-M, but it is slower and has lower uplink/downlink rates as a tradeoff. Some NB-IoT deployments are used in smart cities where a wide area with many structures needs coverage, but less data needs to be processed. LTE-M offers cell handoff features, making it a great mobility solution for wearables and asset tracking. They both will dominate in industries such as agriculture, utilities, and mining, where sensor monitoring over vast distances is required.
New market opportunities are now available with the release of technologies like NB-IoT, LTE-M, and 5G. As these specialized technologies become more established and mature, they will unlock new IoT market opportunities that are not possible and/or cost-effective with older connectivity types. OEMs and solution providers need to consider newer wireless technologies for their offerings to remain relevant as the growth in IoT connections accelerates through the next five years.