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The LPWA space is developing quickly

JUL 14, 2020 | Jim Morrish
region: ALL sector: ALL Internet of ThingsHyperconnectivity

It is a little over seven years since I coined the term LPWA (Low Power Wide Area) to include a new and emerging group of technologies that could potentially transform the world of IoT by combining low cost, wide area coverage with long battery life (of up to 10 years). Key technologies in this space at the time were Sigfox, On-Ramp (now Ingenu) and Weightless (on which the NB-IoT standard is now based, following acquisition of Neul by Huawei). At the time, Semtech had relatively recently acquired Cycleo to gain access to their long range IP, which would eventually underpin LoRaWAN.

Within a couple of years, most IoT industry commentators were of a common view that LPWA technologies would together account for the majority of wide area wireless connected devices within a decade .

Spin forward to the current day, and these predictions are starting to become a reality. LoRaWAN has carved out a niche in industrial and campus networks of different kinds, with over 135 million connections deployed worldwide. The 3GPP’s NB-IoT and LTE-M technologies support a more homogenous global connectivity proposition and together accounted for close to 100 million connections by the end of 2019 . Meanwhile, Sigfox currently accounts for another 16+ million connections.

As discussed in four Key Topic Insight Reports published today, the LPWA market continues to offer a significant market opportunity for all mainstream LPWA technologies, although the market and commercial dynamics associated with LoRaWAN , the 3GPP (Third Generation Partnership Project) technologies NB-IoT and LTE-M and Sigfox vary widely.

To underline the difference between these technology groups, here’s how I see the numbers evolving from today into the future:

  • The first LPWA technology to reach 100 million connections was LoRaWAN, which achieved this level towards the end of 2019. With 135 million connections in June 2020, the technology is currently recording a roughly 80% year-on-year growth rate. The 3GPP technologies NB-IoT and LTE-M combined were only just behind the 100 million connections level at the end of 2019, with connections having tripled during the course of 2019 .
  • The first LPWA technology to reach 1 billion connections will be NB-IoT. We expect that NB-IoT will account for more connections than LTE-M in the 3GPP space, and with (much of) the global mobile industry behind these technologies the number of connections can be expected to continue to grow quickly. It’s not hard to see this figure being achieved in a 3-5 year timeframe.
  • The first LPWA technology to reach 10 billion connections will be Sigfox. While the last two predictions were relatively safe (and one was more of an observation), this one is risky. But with chipsets available for USD0.20 (roughly 20% of the average cost of posting a letter in Europe ) Sigfox has a potential to achieve volumes that exceed the potential of other LPWA technologies. To be clear, the 10 billion figure here includes total deployed connections, including ‘one time use’ devices that may no longer be in use, or may never have been used (as in the case of direct marketing response solutions).