As usual, Transforma Insights’ year kicked-off with a trip to Las Vegas and CES. The tone this year was markedly more upbeat than in 2023, when spirits were generally low off the back of Covid and with prospects of inflation and increasing interest rates and various other uncertainties clouding the horizon. The increased attendance (135,000 this year compared with around 100,000 last) no doubt helped as well.
What were the main take-aways, from Transforma Insights’ IoT-, connectivity-, and AI-centric perspective? The stand-out observation would be how geopolitics are factoring into the IoT space. This can mostly be traced back to a letter from the (US) House Select Committee on the Strategic Competition Between the United States and the Chinese Communist Party to Jessica Rosenworcel, Chair of the Federal Communications Commission, relating to perceived security risks of using cellular connectivity modules provided by Chinese companies.
At Transforma Towers, we’re not qualified to comment on the substance of any such security concerns, however it was the #1 topic that came up in conversations with the cellular IoT industry present in Las Vegas. Fear, uncertainty and doubt (FUD) counts for a lot and some folks referenced the recent trials and tribulations of Huawei in Western markets. FUD is a real thing, and right now it’s driving interest in non-Chinese module vendors.
On a more positive note, there was an increased focus on the ‘developer perspective’ on cellular IoT. To date, many of the systems and processes that support cellular IoT have generally been de-scoped or simplified versions of established approaches. Companies such as 1NCE, Blues, floLIVE, IoThink (now owned by Wireless Logic) and others emphasised simpler approaches that are designed ground-up to be as simple and intuitive as possible for IoT markets and IoT developers. We expect this trend to continue and we’re sure that there will be further similar updates at MWC Barcelona in late February.
The topic of Non-Terrestrial Networks (NTNs) came up several times, particularly in context of the integration of these with 5G networks as provided for by 3GPP releases 17 & 18. But few dwelled on the opportunities that NTNs would unlock. It seemed that there was an appreciation that NTNs could be a significant development, but generally the concept had not been thought through to the point of identifying specific opportunities that companies planned to pursue.
The topic of Cat 1 bis was raised several times, although with different perspectives. Some thought that Cat 1 bis had the potential to displace NB-IoT, some viewed it as an essentially legacy technology that arrived too late (as part of 4G) to have any meaningful impact in the market. Our own views are contained in a recent report: LTE Cat 1 bis is a real contender in cellular-based IoT, at least in the medium term.
One to watch for the future is Ambient IoT, standards for which are expected to be included in 3GPP release 19. Wiliot sells pre-standard Ambient IoT tags (or ‘IoT Pixels’, very similar in nature to RFID tags, effectively combining Active RFID capabilities with RF energy harvesting) and claims to have shipped 100 million tags in 2023. If you want to know the temperature condition of every individual vial of vaccine in a shipment, Ambient IoT might be the technology that you need. The market opportunity (in terms of device count) for this kind of basic monitoring could be huge, and we plan to develop indicative Ambient IoT forecasts in coming months.