KEY POINTS

  • Low Power Wide Area Networks (LPWANs) are networks designed to connect low-power devices like sensors, smart lights, and smart meters to the internet. These networks can be cellular-based or noncellular, and they're typically able to connect large numbers of devices over a very wide geographic area.
  • LPWANs can connect these devices to the internet at a lower cost than 4G cellular networks. This is because cellular networks are designed to connect high-power, data-hungry mobile devices like smartphones and tablets. LPWANs also use less battery power on the devices they connect.
  • BI Intelligence estimates that LPWAN standards will connect more than 700 million IoT devices globally by 2021. This should translate into data subscription revenue for LPWAN providers of nearly $6 billion by 2021. That's up from an estimated $430 million in 2016.
  • Noncellular providers are building out LPWANs based on new standards that use unlicensed (free) spectrum. Some of these standards — like Sigfox and Weightless-N — are tailored for very specific purposes within the IoT, and others are designed to meet the needs of a broad array of IoT use cases.
  • While not yet deployed, standards under development by cellular carriers that leverage their existing cell towers and infrastructure. So far, the 3rd Generation Project Partnership (3GPP), the body that sets technical standards for the mobile telecom industry, has approved three cellular-based LPWAN standards for mobile carriers: EC-GSM-IoT, LTE-M, and NB-IoT.
  • The market for LPWAN connections among IoT devices will be big enough for several standards to succeed and gain market share. However, the emergence of 5G networks in the next five to 10 years looms over the entire market.

Introduction

One of the fundamental challenges to IoT adoption is the need to connect a vast array of different types of devices to the internet. Right now, this is accomplished primarily via Wi-Fi and cellular (2G/3G/4G) networks. But these networks are built to connect desktops, laptops, tablets, and smartphones — not IoT devices. 

Although Wi-Fi and cellular networks can connect IoT devices to the internet, they have inherent characteristics that make them ill-suited to do so for small, low-power components like sensors, smart locks, and smart lights. BI Intelligence expects that more than 24 billion IoT devices will be installed globally in 2020, and the vast majority of these will fall into the small, low-power category. 

So networks that are better suited to connect these [...]