ABI Research forecasts that although proprietary Low-Power Wide-Area Networks (LPWANs) using LoRa, RPMA, and SIGFOX dominate today, the imminent commercialization of cellular LPWANs using the LTE Cat-M1, NB-IoT, and EC-GSM-IoT technologies will quickly rival the proprietary footprint. Cellular LPWANs promise wide support from a large ecosystem, interoperability among vendors and mobile operators, and the ability for existing cellular networks to rapidly scale up through a straightforward software upgrade with no new spectrum or hardware required. North America, Western Europe, and the Asia Pacific will lead the rollout of LPWANs for IoT.
“The window of opportunity for proprietary LPWA schemes to gain market share before the cellular juggernaut hits is drastically narrowing,” says Nick Marshall, Research Director at ABI Research. “While LoRa, RPMA, and SIGFOX technologies account for almost three quarters of LPWANs today, there is significant traction in mobile network operator trials and planning for cellular LPWAN rollout.”
Taking an “LTE Cat-M1 first” approach, the U.S. is on track to offer commercial networks as early as Q4 2016. Other regions will lead with an “NB-IoT first” tactic, becoming commercial sometime in 2017. U.S. operators are adopting LTE Cat-M1 first since it is compliant with the widest array of IoT use cases, and these may demand higher data rates than NB-IoT can provide. Operators plan to subsequently update their networks to NB-IoT if required at a later date. In other regions, NB-IoT is preferred for its promise of lower cost end nodes and longer battery life.
ABI Research also newly tracks 2G/3G network switch-offs, or “sunsets,” in its LPWAN tracker coverage. Sunsets, in some cases, offer companies that rely on M2M an opportunity to substitute licensed M2M technologies with proprietary LPWA technologies. To ensure continuity of their businesses, these companies may decide to use proprietary LPWANs immediately when faced with a network sunset and avoid the wait for commercial scale on cellular networks.
“World 2G and 3G connection sunsets are now accelerating, with double digit declines since 2015,” concludes Marshall. “Although we can count on one hand the number of networks sunsetting in 2016, this number will multiply at least five times over by 2025.”
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