CTIA Super Mobility Week: Day Two – The IoT Network Wars

Peter Jarich
Peter Jarich

Summary Bullets:

  • Broadly, 5G and IoT technologies were the dominant themes of CTIA’s Super Mobility Week.
  • On the IoT front, network technology evolutions and launches – particularly focused on low-data, long-lived applications – came to the fore.
  • The different approaches to support low-power wide area IoT connectivity come with different time lines and value propositions; a battle is brewing.

CTIA’s Super Mobility Week ran through Friday. But, given a third and final day that was supremely quiet, many people considered the official day two to be the end. In other words, if you’re looking for major takeaways, you probably weren’t surprised past Thursday. Heck, anyone reading my post from last Tuesday probably already figured out the show’s key themes were 5G and IoT.

Drilling down into IoT, however, one specific aspect of the space was particularly evident: the battle between competing wide area wireless access technologies, particularly low-power wide-area (LWPA) solutions focused on low-data use cases where devices are often expected to survive on battery power for years. Just consider some of the show’s announcements.

Where the WAN solution for supporting high-bandwidth IoT and M2M use cases seems to be well understood (LTE), Super Mobility Week 2015 made it clear that the question of how to support low-bandwidth use cases (ideally with extended battery life and low costs) is still under consideration…with plenty of options for serving diverse use cases.

Beyond this rather simplistic reality, however, a few other implications stand out. Each technology will play to specific use cases; there may be some overlap in satellite-based and Sigfox use cases, for example, but not much. Yet if most IoT use cases won’t necessarily require WAN access, the long-term viability of all these technologies is uncertain. That’s a problem for anyone expecting a 10 to 20 year lifespan on their investments. Of course, the cellular industry will continue to make a big push on IoT-focused LTE evolutions; the GSMA’s “Mobile IoT Initiative” was just the first step in this direction. Unfortunately, as one evolution follows on the next in short succession, it’s unclear how operators and device makers will decide to put their support behind one – or wait for the next best iteration. That does not bode well for interim steps like Cat-0 or MTC.

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