Low-power, dumb devices forecast to take IoT off cellular networks

The Internet of Things vector illustration.

The M2M industry is dumbing down, according to a report, which says low power, unintelligent devices are taking over the conversation on the Internet of Things.

The revelation comes in a report by Beecham Research, which claims that traditional cellular networks have ‘dominated the market for M2M connectivity’ but that ‘this is about to change’.

The Low Power Wide Area Networks for IoT Applications Market Report and Forecast identifies a new genre emerging, Low Power Wide Area Networks (LPWANs). These are set to become increasingly popular because they are capable of far wider ranges of M2M and IoT applications and are less constrained by either budgets or logistics such as the distance from a power source.

Beecham Research expects that by 2020 LPWANs will provide 26% of the total IoT connectivity market with 345 million connections. In 2015, says the report author, there was no record existence of LPWANs. From a standing start, the LPWAN is now growing fast enough to threaten the near monopoly of traditional cellular networks for machine connectivity.

The report investigates the growing diversity of LPWAN technologies from companies such as Sigfox and those in the LoRa Alliance (LPWAN makers which aim to standardise the LoRa protocol). Most LPWAN systems use ISM (Industrial, Scientific and Medical) bands better known for use by short range wireless technologies like Zigbee, Wifi and 6LoWPAN. However, recent advances allow LPWANs to use the ISM bands over distances of up to 50km in rural areas and 10km in urban areas.

The report identifies TV white spaces (TVWS) as another emerging LPWAN technology with long range, low power characteristics. TVWS uses the gaps in between VHF/UHF parts of the spectrum previously used for TV broadcasting and promises to outperform 3G and 4G with its superior in-building penetration and connectivity over distances of 10km.

The hype around big data applications is a distraction from the real issues affecting the IoT, warned report author David Parker, senior analyst at Beecham Research. “LPWANs represent the most dynamic and potentially game changing development in the IoT market,” said Parker. Many applications are not big data and not necessarily real-time, interactive or immersive, the report notes.

“From a connectivity point of view, the market will move towards 4G-5G for satisfying big data IoT,” said Robin Duke-Woolley, CEO of Beecham Research, “but on the other side LPWANs and equivalent networks will address the low data IoT requirement.”

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