Despite Optimism, LPWANs Still a Work in Progress

The conversation about LPWANs has centered on low-cost connectivity

Low Power Wide Area Network (LPWAN) rollouts were hogging headlines in 2017 as nearly every mobile operator offering Internet of Things (IoT) services exuberantly joined the bandwagon. Even though uptake continues and optimism remains, it is still early days for LPWAN era, says leading 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.

Kathryn Weldon, Research director of Global IT Managed & Hosted Services at GlobalData, says: “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.

“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.”

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, that despite the low average revenue per user, the networks would pay for themselves.

Weldon concludes: “To be fair, we are still at the beginning of the LPWAN era. 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. 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.”

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