The IoT industry is in the fast lane. With millions of apps, billions of devices and trillions of sensors, it’s safe to say the future of a digitally connected world is now.
IoT arguably reached peak hype in 2017, opening the door for new innovations, business models and investments. Until recently, companies merely talked about implementing IoT. Now, we’re seeing an inflection point as businesses move from theoretical achievements and experimentation to actual, quantifiable business outcomes, according to 2018 Forrester Research predictions.
And yet, despite the hype over the years, IoT technologies have been focused on high-value assets, which means experimentation is very expensive for developers and makers. Building for IoT also requires additional steps; it’s not as easy as “write once, deploy globally” — as you would when building a software application at scale. This paradigm doesn’t exist in the world of IoT because hardware is unique, costs of manufacturing vary wildly based on the device or system you are building and, finally, navigating carriers and connectivity options for global deployments is a headache.
If we make it easy for developers, they can spend their time building new products and innovating instead of waiting weeks and sometimes months in development cycles to get started while they deal with the fundamentals of connecting an IoT device. With one major barrier to connectivity mapped out, let’s look at the other inflection points that will empower developers to build cellular connectivity into their devices.
Inflection point #1: Low-power wide area wireless
From speakers to smoke alarms and kitchen appliances to heating and cooling systems, IoT devices are making their way into not only our homes, but across cities and commercial buildings. In fact, according to IDC there will be 17 billion cellular connected devices in 2025; IDC also says that by 2020, 10% of all data in the world will come from machines talking to one another.
The next inflection point (from a tech perspective) is in low-power wide area (LPWA) wireless. It does just as it says: provides low power, low-cost connectivity for the IoT. This enables batteries and equipment to last longer, helps reduce the costs of modems and minimizes the burden of replacing devices.
Historically, connected devices have been focused around high-value assets because the cost of the device itself and the ongoing connectivity is a limiting factor. But with LPWA wireless, there is lower network throughput (a lower bit rate) so the device doesn’t need to draw as much power to send and receive data. Users can connect low-cost devices without having to worry about changing batteries regularly, which can have a huge impact on IoT adoption.
One LPWA wireless telecommunication standard is rapidly emerging: Narrowband IoT (NB-IoT), also known as LTE Cat NB1. It’s a technology that can work virtually anywhere there is LTE coverage and where carrier has enabled NB-IoT. T-Mobile is rolling out NB-IoT nationally in the U.S. by the end of June 2018, and a number of operators in Europe and Asia have also rolled out NB-IoT. Why does NB-IoT matter? Because the coverage is so vast, it is feasible that many more use cases will be imagined simply because of network access, expanding the world of IoT connected devices.
While the next inflection point involves LPWA wireless telecommunication like NB-IoT, we won’t see a true inflection point unless developers and makers can unleash their creativity with “things.”
Other U.S. operators, Verizon and AT&T are pursuing LTE Cat-M1 which aims to reduce complexity from Cat-0, increase coverage and improve battery life. LTE Cat-M1 offerings are becoming pervasive with higher data throughput, also enabling video use cases. Meanwhile, predictions from Mobile Experts suggest that 57% of cellular connected devices will be on NB-IoT by 2022 as demand for cheaper, lower-powered connectivity options increase.
Inflection point #2: Programmable wireless for all developers
IoT matters for developers because it opens up the opportunity for all of the products and innovations that don’t exist today. Our history at Twilio has taught us that having many developers on a platform leads to experimentation, and multiple experiments lead to innovation.
2018 will be the year for LPWA technology to take off in the U.S., especially as we see the benefits of NB-IoT experiments in Asia and Europe start to be realized. We expect to see not only new businesses, but totally new business models that can reimagine the way we are able to connect with things. We also expect developers to create devices and applications that are optimized for LPWA, but the developers need to feel empowered to do so — this way, they can expand the number of new products and services made possible by IoT.
The next inflection point? There will be millions of developers working on connected devices and projects, and those developers need to be inspired and equipped to change the way the world builds the internet of things. We can’t wait to see what they build.
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