The LPWA market is highly fragmented, and telcos need to decide now which LPWA technologies to provide as part of their IoT portfolio. This report examines different LPWA technologies and use-cases, providing analysis to help telcos choose which ones are right for them.
Introduction: Why is LPWA important?
The Internet of Things (IoT) space is huge and incredibly diverse. It spans everything from remote-control of commercial drones, to consumer wearables, in-building sensors and smart electricity metering. It has the potential to improve cities’ safety, industrial productivity and enhance human health and welfare. Each area has its own characteristics in terms of connectivity, management, platform and security requirements.
This briefing report focuses on “narrowband”, long-distance IoT connectivity – typically applications which operate at speeds of 1Mbit/s or less, and perhaps only transmit a few kilobytes per day. That contrasts with the high-speed, low-latency connections IoT connections that people reference for wearables like AR headsets, or those streaming real-time telemetry and cloud-access, from complex devices like robots or huge arrays of sensors.
It is frequently said that connectivity represents only a small percentage of the overall revenue and value opportunity around IoT. Yet while that is, objectively, true, it ignores the anchoring and potential “pull-through” on other layers, especially for LPWA and narrowband access, where optimisation for power consumption and coverage is critical for many use-cases. Provision of connectivity to a device or application gives the provider (or owner) a head-start on exploiting the entire solution stack, for example in terms of collection of operational data for machine-learning and analytics.
Against that backdrop, it is understandable why telcos and their vendors and industry bodies are putting so much attention on IoT-centric networking. That encompasses everything from 5G headline use-cases about ultra-low latency connections, through to the desire to manage smart homes and cities’ infrastructure, or very simple sensors.
It is already clear that no one single technology – or even two or three – can cover everything to do with IoT. There are too many dimensions – between 5 and 10 important ones can be identified (see page 19) – which leads to a vast set of combinations. No vendor, and no operator, will be able to optimally cover everything, while for any given problem there is likely to be an overlap of “reasonable” solutions.
An important part of the mix, which STL Partners has considered before in 2016 (see here ), is for low-power, wide-area LPWA connectivity. This is envisaged to connect many of the “billions” of endpoints which are widely anticipated – inexpensive sensors, actuators, personal devices, tags and other gadgets – and especially those spread over large distances (think 100s of metres, up to 10s of kilometres or more).