Roaming agreements help NB-IoT adoption in Europe, North America

Roaming agreements help NB-IoT adoption in Europe, North America

Even though its adoption rate in Europe and North America was lagging, NB-IoT (narrowband internet of Things) roaming agreements are expected to accelerate adoption, claims IoT analyst firm Berg Insight. The growth will pave the way for more edge devices like sensors, trackers and consumer electronics to incorporate the wireless technology in the coming years.

In its latest research report, Cellular and LPWA IoT Device Ecosystems, Berg Insight reports that some 5 million NB-IoT modules were shipped in Europe and North America in 2019. The technology is, for now, in higher demand in China due to its use for smart water and gas meters. European and North American deployments in the utilities sector have also spawned the demand for NB-IoT modules.

Last year, over 6 million units in Europe and North America received LTE-M modules for use in asset tracking. In terms of global deployments, the number of NB-IoT networks surpasses the number of LTE-M networks in early 2020.

“A key barrier to growth of NB-IoT adoption outside of China has been the lack of NB-IoT roaming agreements between network operators,” said Fredrik Stalbrand, senior analyst at Berg Insight, in a prepared statement. “With a growing number of roaming agreements in place, NB-IoT adoption is set to accelerate as the technology becomes integrated into major volume product categories ranging from sensors, trackers and consumer electronics.”

International roaming would speed up IoT deployments across countries and would also provide opportunities to track vehicles, trailers and containers across borders. In Europe, some progress is noticed in making NB-IoT coverage omnipresent. The two leading network operators in the area who are already providing these services are Vodafone and Deutsche Telekom.

In 2019, Vodafone and AT&T started working together to set up cross-regional IoT deployments in the U.S. and some European countries. In April 2020, Deutsche Telekom entered NB-IoT roaming deals with Vodafone, Swisscom and Telia Company and others, to build a roaming infrastructure across Europe by December 2020.

The 3GPP ecosystem of cellular technologies, LPWA technologies LoRa and Sigfox and the 802.15.4 ecosystem are the most popular environments for wide-area IoT networking. By the end of 2019, some 1.9 billion IoT devices were connected to wide area networks through cellular or LPWA technologies, said Berg Insight, while the total number of worldwide cellular IoT subscribers reached 1.6 billion or 17% of mobile subscribers.

The annual cellular IoT module shipment rate has increased by 22.3% in 2019 to reach 265.4 million units. Cellular IoT technology progress in China will be the driving force behind the worldwide shift to 4G LTE tech from 2G, according to the report. In 2019, China switched from GPRS to NB-IoT, counting 40 million modules in the mass-market segment.

Even though service providers are adding 5G coverage to more markets, a good number of 5G IoT modules will only be accessible in the second part of 2020, respectively routers and gateways, while integration with vehicles is expected in 2021. Initial launches will not be as focused on performance, as they will target technology branding.

One of the most popular global connectivity platforms for IoT devices is LoRa, with some 135 million LoRa devices installed worldwide in early 2020, as reported by Semtech. Due to the technology’s low-power consumption which enables long-life battery performance, the first deployments are for smart gas and water metering.

According to Berg Insight, while 47 million LoRa devices were shipped in 2019 alone, the number will grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 27.2% to reach 156.9 million units by 2024. In 2019, China represented 60% of total shipments, but the report claimed Europe and North America are catching up in the next years due to a shift from pilots to large-scale deployments.

Sigfox aims to globally scale its technology and turn it into the main platform for ultra-narrow band IoT networks by delivering connectivity to devices that did not communicate before. The company announced 15.4 million connected devices in 2019. By 2024 the number of shipments will increase at a 41% CAGR, growing from 9.4 million units in 2019 to 52.6 million, Berg Insight has estimated.

On the other hand, connectivity platform 802.15.4 WAN will not see impressive growth in the upcoming future, due to the high competition generated by LPWA standards. Shipments of 802.15.4 WAN devices will register a CAGR of 15.5% to 46.6 million units by 2024 with demand again being driven by smart metering. The industry standard for smart electricity metering networks in North America is Wi-SUN, with significant scalability opportunities in Asia-Pacific and Europe.

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