IoT observations at this year's event in Barcelona.
As many already have pointed out, this year’s Mobile World Congress was more centred around network infrastructure and 5G and less on topics relating to IoT, smart cities, autonomous cars and robotics compared to recent years. Attendants arriving at the Fira by metro were met by advertisements for radios instead of concept cars and big news during the week were carriers’ “first-to-5G” announcements, Qualcomm’s early dominance in 5G chips, Huawei’s troubles in the US and elsewhere, Ericsson’s acquisition of Kathrein’s antenna business, and yes, foldable phones. Meanwhile, discussions about IoT are becoming more candid and nuanced as the shift from “technology push” to “market and use-case pull” appears to be underway. This development is certainly positive.
New cellular product categories are coming
Cellular IoT device vendors and IoT divisions of major carriers are today focused on the commercialisation of services and devices based on the Low Power Wide Area (LPWA) technologies LTE-M and NB-IoT that were introduced in 3GPP’s Release 13 in 2016. Interestingly, 5G is already here from an LPWA perspective, as the 3GPP has decided that these technologies will continue to evolve as part of the 5G specifications. While early deployments of LPWA devices have been in traditional verticals such as smart metering and transportation, I expect to see cellular technologies being integrated into a broader set of devices coming out in 2019–2020, including wearables, home appliances, smart locks and medical devices. In the picture below I’m wearing Nimb’s smart safety ring, built using Sierra Wireless LPWA module that includes the Sony subsidiary Altair’s chipset. Altair, one of the leading providers of ultra-low power chipsets, also recently announced that its chipset will be used in Garmin’s new Vívoactive 3 Music.
LoRa continues its momentum
In contrast to LTE-M and NB-IoT, networks based on the LoRaWAN specification uses unlicensed spectrum. Semtech, the company behind the technology, announced that cumulative deployments of LoRa devices reached 80 million at the end of 2018. The French carrier Orange operates several national LoRa networks in Europe and just signed a contract to connect more than 3 million water meters in France, which is the largest LoRa project to date. I’m impressed by the momentum that LoRa has built in the market.
Bluetooth in the enterprise
Although not talked about much, Bluetooth has already found its way into a wide range of devices as the Bluetooth Special Interest Group has pushed hard to broaden the standard. Almost 4 billion Bluetooth chips were shipped in 2018 and the cost of a Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) chip is now well below US$ 0.5. Silicon Valley-based Nodle has developed a novel solution that leverages the ubiquity of Bluetooth technology. The company has built a BLE-powered network that utilises smartphones as nodes and base stations for the network. The network can help companies and cities to collect data from devices, sensors and tags. For example, operators of bike and scooter programs can utilise the Nodle Network to track and collect data from their remote vehicles. Nodle announced the Nodle App on the HTC Exodus smartphone during the event and the solution is already used by a number of Fortune 500 companies for asset tracking applications. We have already seen an increased interest in Bluetooth technology coming from the enterprise and industrial sectors in recent time, especially in areas such as asset tracking and industrial monitoring.
New hardware business models
We are seeing that an increasing number of hardware companies test new business models. The leading IoT gateway vendor Cradlepoint pivoted to a subscription-based model in mid-2018 and its NetCloud Solution Packages that combine hardware, software and support are now the exclusive model to purchase the company’s products. This was a very brave decision to make for an established company like Cradlepoint, which has managed the transition exceptionally and is now part of the rollout of Verizon’s 5G enterprise broadband services in the US. Examples of companies that have made similar moves on a product level include Sierra Wireless with its Ready-to-Connect bundle solutions and CalAmp with its Device-as-a-Service offering. Freewave that specialises in long-range wireless radio and edge computing solutions for the oil and gas industry has taken a different approach. The company partners with software vendors and employs a joint go-to-market strategy. Freewave recently partnered with Inductive Automation that provides the Ignition Edge MQTT client that can run on Freewave’s ZumIQ Edge Computer. This is an interesting company to watch in the industrial IoT space.
Fredrik Stålbrand, Berg Insight
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