Cellular IoT dominates LPWANs

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Cellular IoT dominates LPWANs

As the IoT matures, analysts forecast that NB-IoT and LTE-M (cellular IoT) are likely to become the dominant technologies for connecting local area networks (LANs) or standalone wireless devices over kilometer distances to the Cloud.

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As the IoT matures, analysts forecast that NB-IoT and LTE-M (cellular IoT) are likely to become the dominant technologies for connecting local area networks (LANs) or standalone wireless devices over kilometer distances to the Cloud. The process is already well underway and forms a lucrative market into which IoT connectivity vendors are keen to tap.  

LPWAN IoT connections set to boom 

Low power wide area networks (LPWANs) are a critical part of the IoT’s infrastructure and as such are set to grow rapidly. According to global intelligence firm, ABI Research, LPWAN connections will reach 5.3 billion in 2030, with smart metering, asset tracking, and condition-based monitoring cited amongst key IoT applications.  

Statista forecasts LPWAN IoT connections will outnumber any other IoT connectivity technology by 2030. And a recent study by Allied Market Research projects the global LPWAN market—valued at $8.2 billion in 2022—will reach a staggering $582 billion by 2032, growing at a CAGR of 53.4 percent over the forecast period (2023-to-2032).  

Bridging the gap between IoT end-devices and the Cloud 

But as rapidly as the LPWAN market is growing, it remains fragmented. However, cellular IoT is gaining traction as the dominant ‘bridge’ between remote IoT end-devices and the Cloud. As alternative non-cellular connectivity technologies like LoRaWAN and Sigfox face technical and commercial pressures, cellular IoT is establishing itself as the LPWAN leader.  

For example, according to Mordor Intelligence’s Cellular IoT Market Size & Share Analysis – Growth Trends & Forecasts (2023–2028) report, the cellular IoT market size is expected to grow from $5.02 billion in 2023 to $14.26 billion by 2028, at a CAGR of 23.21 percent during the five-year forecast period. This global market growth will be driven by the rise in digitalization and automation across industries such as manufacturing, automotive, and energy and utilities, claims the analyst. 

Key advantages for massive IoT 

Cellular IoT growth comes from the key advantages it offers for massive IoT; chief among these advantages is its Internet Protocol (IP) interoperability which enables a bidirectional link between end-devices and the Cloud without the need for expensive and complex routers or gateways. Further advantages include future proofing, scalability, security, and high quality of service (QoS).  

NB-IoT for static applications and LTE-M for mobile applications 

NB-IoT and LTE-M are the two underlying technologies supporting cellular IoT. NB-IoT is suited to static applications. Examples include smart meters and smart streetlights. LTE-M is suited to devices that can change locations, such as asset trackers or wearables.  

Flexibility and support for massive IoT 

Industry experts suggest the positive trends for NB-IoT and LTE-M can largely be attributed to flexibility and support for massive IoT that cellular IoT’s competitors struggle to match.  

Cellular IoT uses existing cellular base stations (with software upgrades) to connect massive IoT devices to the Cloud. The LPWAN technology can connect over kilometers, supports a high density of IoT devices, doesn’t require much battery power, and offers high security.   

Cellular IoT base stations can each support up to 50,000 cellular IoT connections. The communications are fully bidirectional, and the technology is an integral part of the 5G specifications. 

Standardization for 5G is carried out by several international organizations, primarily the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), the 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP), the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF), and the European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI). 

Based on the support of these mature global standards bodies, powerful mobile network operators (MNO)—such as Vodafone, Orange, Telenor, and Telefonica—and a solid vendor ecosystem including Nordic Semiconductor, cellular IoT is beginning to justify the hype, not to mention the considerable investment.  

Cellular IoT takes the largest market share 

The technical and commercial advantages of cellular IoT are driving the technology towards a dominant share of the LPWAN market. According to IoT Analytics, NB-IoT (47 percent) and LTE-M (10 percent) already made-up 57 percent of the global LPWAN installed base in 2022, compared to 43 percent for the combined competition.  

In its LPWAN Market Report – 2022, Omdia predicted LPWAN connections will grow at a CAGR of 23 percent in the five-year period to 2028, driven predominantly by growth in NB-IoT and LoRaWAN technologies. The analyst forecasts NB-IoT and LoRaWAN will account for 87 percent of all LPWAN connections in 2028, up from 85 percent in 2023. 

The company expects there will be almost 1.6 billion NB-IoT LWPAN connections in 2028 with a further 300 million LTE-M connections – around 800 million more connections than the closest competitor, LoRaWAN, and dwarfing the number of connections for Sigfox and other technologies. 

Boosting productivity and saving cost 

Cellular IoT connectivity has already played a major role in enhancing productivity, streamlining operations, minimizing downtime, automating processes, and generating cost savings across various industries – for example, utilities, agriculture, industrial, retail, and healthcare. And having already taken the lead in the LPWAN sector, the technology is on track to command a critical role in the future of the IoT.