Low power wide area (LPWA) IoT technologies in unlicensed spectrum are growing in coverage and adoption, while standardized technologies for use in licensed spectrum are to become available later this year.
The benefits of low cost, low power and broad coverage (including indoor) address a wide range of different application requirements which cellular, short range wireless and other connectivity options cannot match. Therefore growth is forecast to be very high. A number of proprietary LPWA technologies are available today, with deployments widening. We see that there are three key contenders emerging: SIGFOX, LoRa and RPMA, each of which enjoys different advantages and disadvantages in terms of capability, industry support, business model, degree of coverage and level of adoption. 3GPP LPWA standards, notably LTE-M and NB-IoT, will be finalized by mid-2016, and the first products are expected by the end of 2016.
- LPWA technologies provide significant improvements in terms of power consumption, coverage and pricing over cellular and other M2M connectivity technologies, and as a result we expect to see strong adoption in coming years. Between 2015 and 2020, we forecast that cellular M2M connections will grow from 310m to 715m and LPWA M2M connections will grow from 20m to over 860m.
- Smart meters will, by some margin, be the largest application with 45% of total LPWA connections in 2020. Industrial/financial applications will be the second largest, followed by consumer electronics, a broad category where we expect very high growth rates around 2020. Smart city applications, notably intelligent lighting/parking and smart buildings, are forecast to account for 12% of total LPWA connections in 2020. The adoption of LPWA in land vehicle-based applications is expected to be limited.
- North America is initially the largest LPWA region, largely because of the adoption of RPMA devices in predominantly private networks. LoRa and SIGFOX networks are also being rolled out in US. Western Europe is expected to become the largest region in terms of LPWA connections in 2017, but Asia Pacific will overtake it in the following year and by 2020 the latter is expected to represent nearly 46% of the total.
- Deployment of LPWA networks is expected to be much slower in developing markets, where the focus on M2M overall is much more limited. Africa and Middle East, Central and Eastern Europe and Latin America are expected to account for just 14% of LPWA global connections in 2020.
- Mobile network operators are following a number of different approaches, depending on local market conditions, market maturity, degree of international exposure, market position and degree of focus on M2M. Most operators are waiting for 3GPP standard LPWA technologies to be ratified and commercialized. Some operators are backing a range of LPWA technologies, either because they operate across diverse markets which have different needs or for opportunistic reasons, combined with local competition.