Four takeaways from the latest LPWAN market data

April 11, 2024

Solutions covered by Sisvel's Cellular IoT pool - NB-IoT and LTE-M - achieve majority share as connections are set to double by 2027

By Jacob Schindler

Sisvel’s Cellular IoT programme is built around a pair of technologies, NB-IoT and LTE-M, which fall under the low-power wide-area network (LPWAN) category. Put simply, these solutions provide connectivity across vast distances with minimal energy consumption. That makes them ideal for assembling IoT networks enabling smart grids, smart cities, smart agriculture and smart commerce.

IoT device-makers can choose from several available technologies in this space. A prime goal of Sisvel’s pool is to provide a transparent, one-stop shop licensing offering that gives industry players the peace of mind to select whichever solution best meets their technical needs.

A number of organisations have recently published market data from 2023, as well as projections for the coming years covering shipments of IoT devices and the market share between the various available LPWAN technologies. Here are some of the key themes that stood out from them to us.

1. The road to 3 billion LPWAN connections

Multiple analysts see strong growth in devices and connections over the next few years. Juniper Research, looking at the entire cellular IoT space, forecasts the total number of devices will increase from 3.4 billion in 2024 to 6.5 billion by 2028.

Meanwhile, IoT Analytics, looking more narrowly at the LPWAN sub-category, is projecting 3 billion LPWAN IoT connections by 2027, representing a 26% CAGR from the current 1.3 billion connections globally.

It’s fair to say that this technology area is still waiting for a big bang moment. Much will depend on the economics of IoT modules. If it becomes feasible for lower-priced devices and products to be manufactured in much greater volumes, then we could see a significant take-off in new application areas. That’s a key reason why clarity around patent licensing costs is critical.

2. NB-IoT’s global footprint

The market share data from IoT Analytics shows that NB-IoT is the top technology choice globally in the IoT space. This has been the case since around 2020, and NB-IoT currently accounts for around 54% of all LPWAN connections. A large factor behind this footprint is massive adoption in China where, because of nationwide policy, NB-IoT now accounts for over 80% of LPWAN connections.

But while 84% of global NB-IoT connections are in China, the market share figures show that this technology is a much wider phenomenon. At present, NB-IoT accounts for 20% of ex-China LPWAN connections, with that share projected to tick towards 23% by 2027. That makes it a very viable choice in the extensive range of countries where it has been deployed by carriers.

3. LTE-M’s steady rise

IoT analytics presents a dataset excluding China to give a more accurate picture of the remaining global markets.

For 2023, LTE-M held a market share of 32%, second only to the 40% enjoyed by LoRaWAN, the current market leader outside of China. However, the report predicts significant convergence by 2027, with the two technologies both holding around 35% of the market.

Given the direction of the trends, LTE-M appears on track to command a significant share of the LPWAN market as the overall pie continues to grow over the next few years.

4. Industry increasingly choosing licensed solutions

LPWAN implementers can choose between solutions that operate on licensed wireless spectrum (that is, NB-IoT and LTE-M) and those that operate on unlicensed bands (including LoRaWAN and SigFox). Increasingly, players in the IoT ecosystem are gravitating toward the former.

IoT Analytics reports that licensed LPWAN solutions surpassed unlicensed ones outside of China for the first time in 2023. Last year, NB-IoT and LTE-M combined for 68% of the global market and 52% of the ex-China market.

There are technical advantages to operating on the licensed cellular spectrum. Using unlicensed bands means facing potential interference from other parties trying to use the same spectrum, as well as having to observe stricter limits in areas like transmission time. Having exclusive rights to certain bands, on the other hand, offers significant reliability and performance benefits.

Ultimately, the market will decide which solutions benefit most from the expected advance of LPWAN and other IoT technologies. By providing a transparent licence offer that covers many of the key patent portfolios in the Cellular IoT space, Sisvel aims to give IoT market participants as much clarity as possible to facilitate their technology adoption decisions.

Jacob Schindler is a senior manager in Sisvel’s Content and Strategic Communications team. He is based in Hong Kong

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