Charlie Ergen isn’ the only one talking about building a low-power wide area network (LPWAN), offering Internet of Things (IoT) services. Nearly every mobile operator globally has jumped on the bandwagon. Even though uptake continues and optimism remains, it is still early days for LPWAN era, according to data and analytics company GlobalData.
According to the GSMA, there have been 48 launches (i.e., build-outs in 48 countries) of either Narrowband IoT (NB-IoT) or Long-Term Evolution for Machines (LTE-M) networks by 26 operators as of April 2018. Of these, 31 launches were for NB-IoT. There are some operators that are building out both or are planning to do so in the near future as each technology has its own benefits when it comes to issues including bandwidth costs and voice support.
“As the operators that have deployed the technology can attest, the expectation is that the lower costs and extended battery life of LPWANs will draw thousands of companies,” said Kathryn Weldon, research director of Global IT Managed & Hosted Services, GlobalData.
“In particular, use cases for utility or energy management, asset tracking, and smart cities, which often require only sporadic or periodic remote sensor readings of far-flung equipment or assets, would provide the bulk of opportunities,” she said.
However, in a lot of the public marketing and monetization plans a strategy has been missing to go beyond connectivity to offer higher-value services such as device and connectivity management, application enablement and management, bundled hardware/software/connectivity packages and support for seamless low-cost global roaming.
The conversation about LPWANs, on the other hand, has centered on low-cost connectivity, which is supposed to draw such a vast number of connections to the IoT. Common wisdom says that despite the low average revenue per user the networks would pay for themselves.
“To be fair, we are still at the beginning of the LPWAN era,” Weldon said. “But the first rumblings about whether we are seeing traction and monetization are starting to be heard and the reviews are mixed.
“Clearly there is some concern in the industry that the anticipated massive uptake of LPWANs will not be realized as easily as they had hoped, but the roll-outs continue and optimism remains, tempered with realistic concerns about how best to monetize the investments. And of course the elephant in the room is 5G; if 5G is coming sooner than expected; it may displace LPWANs before they have barely started,” she added.