A new report from the IoT market research firm Berg Insight says that the global number of cellular IoT subscribers increased by 22 percent during 2021 to reach 2.1 billion.
The major regional markets China, Western Europe and North America grew similarly during the year as the world recovered from the COVID-19 pandemic. By 2026, Berg Insight now projects that there will be 4.3 billion IoT devices connected to cellular networks worldwide.
The top ten mobile operators reported a combined active base of 1.8 billion cellular IoT connections at the end of 2021, accounting for 86 percent of total connections. China Mobile is the world’s largest provider of cellular IoT connectivity services with an estimated 801 million cellular IoT connections. China Unicom and China Telecom ranked second and third with 300 million and 297 million connections respectively.
Vodafone ranked first among the Western operators and fourth overall with 142 million connections, followed by AT&T with 95 million in fifth place. Deutsche Telekom and Verizon had in the range of 45–55 million cellular IoT connections each, when counting T-Mobile USA’s customers as part of DT’s IoT subscriber base. Telefónica, KDDI and Orange were the last players in the top ten with about 31 million, 23 million and 20 million connections respectively. The year-on-year growth rates for the largest operators were in the span of 0–41 percent.
IoT connectivity services account for around 1 percent of total revenues for most operator groups. Berg Insight’s analysis of the IoT business KPIs released by mobile operators in different parts of the world suggests that global IoT connectivity revenues increased by around 15 percent during 2020, while the monthly APRU dropped by 2 percent to € 0.38.
The shift to embedded SIMs, or eSIMs, is currently one of the strongest trends within the IoT connectivity market. Automotive OEMs stand out as early adopters of the technology, which is now experiencing broad uptake across a range of vertical markets. Leveraging the benefits of the two existing eSIM specifications – M2M and Consumer – GSMA’s new IoT specification is set to further accelerate uptake of the technology as it will eliminate the need for integrations between mobile operators and provide greater flexibility for IoT solution providers.