SAN JOSE, Calif. — LoRa and cellular’s Narrowband-IoT (NB-IoT) are far ahead of a pack of low-power wide-area networks (LPWANs) staking out early design wins in the internet of things. The LTE-M version of 4G cellular is a distant third, and Sigfox trails, according to a new report from IHS Markit.
The report suggests that a once wide-open field is beginning to narrow significantly. However, it’s still early days. IHS estimated that just 150 million LPWAN links were deployed in 2018, a figure that it expects to expand at a 63% compound annual growth rate to hit 1.7 billion links by 2023.
It’s also worth noting that some alternatives are just emerging from the lab. For example, multiple vendors are shipping their first chips this year for a 900-MHz version of Wi-Fi called HaLow that’s expected to hold significant promise for long-range connections. And last year, research institute CEA-Leti announced early work on a new option based on a patented Turbo-FSK waveform.
That said, IHS forecasts that NB-IoT and LoRa could claim 86% of all LPWAN links in 2023. “We think it is a two-horse race by 2023, with LoRaWAN more in private and NB-IoT mainly in public networks,” said Christian Kim, one of the authors of the report.
Interestingly, Huawei’s HiSilicon division is the leading supplier of today’s NB-IoT chips, 90% of which are deployed in China. Taiwan’s Mediatek is second, and China’s RDA Unisoc is third in NB-IoT silicon. NB-IoT had its origins in technology from U.K. startup Neul, acquired by Huawei in 2014.
The relatively sluggish market for LTE-M chips is led by Qualcomm, followed by Sequans and Altair. Semtech is by far the dominant supplier of LoRa chips, the current market leader among LPWANs.
Overall, 54% of last year’s LPWAN deployments were in China versus about 23% each in the Americas and the EMEA region. Government-backed smart-city projects in China are driving NB-IoT today with deployments in smart meters, parking meters, and streetlights.
“Most projects are using government money,” said Kim. “A lot of enterprises have not warmed to NB-IoT, even in China.”
To some extent, the LPWANs are solutions seeking problems. IHS currently tracks 20 use cases proposed for the links.
The China government is promoting use of NB-IoT in smart homes for electronic locks, smoke detectors, and other uses, and Huawei has talked about its use in agriculture for more efficient dairy farms. However, it has not yet taken hold in such applications to date, Kim said.
In the U.S., Wi-Fi and Bluetooth by far dominate in the smart home. And in developed countries, dairy farms are already operating at high efficiency levels, he added.
LoRa and NB-IoT could command 86% of all LPWA deployments by 2023. Click to enlarge. (Source: IHS Markit)