The world of LowPower IoT has recently found itself in a very interesting situation. All the major components of the entire solution (devices, communication, applications, and integration) have learned everything necessary for real use over the past 3 years. Our partners install tens of thousands of sensors that provide data so valuable that it is profitable to collect it. Nevertheless, there are opinions about "NB-IoT winter". And yet, on the contrary, new platforms are being created and more and more virtual operators are offering their sims. Is this business already ‘in the money’, i.e. is money important, or is the market just ‘buying’ and is the price important?
It always depends on the point of view.
1) equipment manufacturers
After the very difficult period of Covid and the subsequent problems with logistics and the price of components, it seems that there is not only a light at the end of the tunnel, but even a bright future for device manufacturers. In particular, the rising prices of energy and water have shown how important it is to be able to manage them carefully, and sensors with NB-IoT communication are an important helper for the right manager (e.g. in agriculture, water management, smart cities, factories and logistics).
Of course, even solid use cases are still plagued by problems with higher component prices and inconsistent quality. Some problems can be so strange that you can’t help but smile. For one manufacturer, sensors they had operated perfectly, except between +5 and -5 °C they ‘froze’ and stopped working. The sensors worked normally at a higher temperature, but also at a lower temperature... For the developers of the first few devices, this is sometimes an undetectable problem... for the manufacturer, who installed and distributed 10 thousand sensors in the field in this way, almost a disaster.
Nevertheless, in the future, the quality of components will return to normal levels and the price, which was falling until Covid, will turn south again. Analysts' forecasts have settled on relatively reasonable numbers, and growth in the number of installed IoT devices in the range of 20-30% per year is expected for the next 5 years. For device manufacturers, investments in LowPower IoT will finally begin to reap sweet rewards.
2) mobile operators
Mobile operators are doing everything they can to spread NB-IoT and LTE-M services as much as possible. The only thing that baffles me is the way they decided to approach the age-old "chicken or the egg" dilemma. On the one hand, they are able to offer extremely aggressive prices through MVNOs (I am sure that these prices do not even cover labor costs for European MVNOs, it doesn't matter for Asian ones, state support in the back is more important there anyway), on the other hand, they invest in the densification of mob
ile networks and deployment of new technologies. So far, these investments are paid by users of other MNOs telecommunications services.
Providers of LowPower communication integration into other IoT systems is a completely separate chapter. Some players (including Miotiq.com) focus on maximum efficiency in order to enable—thanks to some unique functions—the best possible function of the entire chain from sending a message to its reliable delivery to an IoT hub or database. Others rely on a wide variety of features. However, this can ultimately make the whole solution more expensive and complicated. The risk can then be the abandonment of the supporting idea: LowPower = LowCost. It is questionable whether the average growth in the number of IoT devices (25% per year) is sufficient for business plans with an ambitious break-even target.
Economically, the most interesting part of the entire IoT stack is the application area. By far the most successful are applications that already had their own circle of customers and the possibility of expanding data sources with cheap information from NB-IoT/LTE-M sensors only increased the value they brought to their users. This category mostly includes applications for managing water measurement data, electricity and gas. Especially if the operators of these applications can look for new opportunities to connect online information about media consumption with their trading. With absolutely minimal costs of approx. 0.1 EUR per subscription point per month (CAPEX + OPEX for a project duration of 48 months) have at their disposal data on consumption within an hour and thus a tool for managing consumption so that it is as large as possible when they buy media cheaply and as small as possible in at a time when they are expensive (or allowed them a premium price at this time).
New applications that use the advantages of IoT in a completely new way are also very interesting, especially in the area of agriculture. ‘Completely new’ is not entirely true, because someone has certainly already collected data directly from the field (temperature, humidity) before. It just probably wasn't possible on such a scale and frequency. By combining collected data with historical data, weather forecasting models and biological data of each specific plant, fields can reach a level of laboratory precision. It is clear how the use of IoT increases the efficiency (less fertilizers and chemicals, better work with irrigation) and the ecology of today's modern agriculture.
In exactly the same way, these principles work in smart cities. With the trend of green urbanization, intelligent irrigation systems using IoT sensors are increasing quite naturally.
Compared to device manufacturers, the 25% growth in installed sensors is an even more positive number for app developers. They can profit not only from one-off margins, but the multiplier effect allows them to add additional functions already completely under their control with an even more interesting overall margin.
The least active player in the field of LowPower IoT is system integrators. It’s quite understandable after the disappointment as early predictions from leading consultants, when the IoT hockey stick took on the shape of a high bar, failed to materialize. At the time, endeavors were made to solve teething problems with IoT technologies at considerable cost. These times are already behind us, the vast majority of childhood diseases are either solved or we know a reliable cure for them, and millions of IoT devices in use provide a reliable basis for more reliable predictions. I believe that for integrators, 25% annual growth is an interesting parameter for them to start paying more attention to IoT again.
Disclaimer: All the aforementioned ways of deploying IoT in practice are real and our partners are successfully operating them using the services of the Miotiq.com platform ☺