- Mobile World Congress saw plenty of discussion and activity around IoT, including technology demos, technology trials, and solution enhancements.
- Anyone looking for significant movement on NB-IoT at Mobile World Congress was likely to be disappointed, and LPWA players are taking advantage of that.
Long before Mobile World Congress 2016 kicked into gear, it was clear that two themes would dominate it – 5G and IoT. The 5G message was straightforward: vendors and operators are beginning to focus on commercialization, with fixed use cases being an early example. On the IoT front, there was no shortage of “noise,” but discerning one clear theme was difficult. Nokia’s pledge of $350 million to an IoT-focused investment fund was an impressive commitment to the space. Beyond that, however, we had NB-IoT movement and market development, but no major NB-IoT breakthroughs, no significant new LPWAN endorsements, nothing to suggest that carriers were conclusively gaining ground in “moving up the stack” to deliver more than IoT connectivity.
Instead, there were a number of smaller industry advancements on each front, telegraphing a handful of themes.
- SP IoT Solutions and Incremental Movement: If you looked for it, there was plenty of activity at Mobile World Congress that pointed to carriers driving their IoT businesses forward. Verizon talked up its ThingSpace progress. AT&T made its IoT focus clear. Telefonica moved to expand the reach of its FIWARE work. Beyond that, consider some of the bigger vendor moves like Ericsson’s IoT Transformation Services launch, Nokia’s IoT portfolio launch, or Cisco’s acquisition of Jasper from earlier in February. Broadly, what we saw was a case of solution building. Sure, some operators have strategies in place and are executing on them, but many more don’t. For their part, vendors are either targeting those carriers who still need to build plans or building out solutions to tap the opportunity.
- Cellular IoT Today and Tomorrow… Maybe: While vendors at MWC were busy evangelizing the IoT opportunity for carriers beyond simply providing access, they were also busy selling IoT-focused access technologies and solutions. Even if they want to move beyond connectivity, carriers know that delivering connectivity is their bread and butter. And while there was some movement on the 2G front (for example, Ericsson’s EC-GSM trial with Orange), the real action was around NB-IoT. This makes sense; NB-IoT has been hyped as THE solution for enabling low-power, low-cost IoT leveraging LTE networks since last year. Yet, consider some of the news on this front: an NB-IoT trial for Ericsson at Singtel; Huawei’s NB-IoT MoU with TIM; Huawei’s NB-IoT Open Lab with Vodafone; Sequans’ NB-IoT chipset launch and module work with Gemalto as well as Skyworks. What’s the theme? NB-IoT is coming and is being driven hard, but despite the hype from last year, its future is uncertain; it’s still very early days and nothing at MWC changed that. Even the notion that standards would be complete by mid-year was questioned in some conversations.
- LPWAN Players “Minding the Gap:” If NB-IoT can be seen as a response to the success of LPWAN technologies, MWC made it clear that the LPWAN industry is executing on its time advantage. Whether it was Semtech pushing LoRa through ARM mbed, Cisco driving LoRa along with Actility, Sigfox pushing into Germany, or Ingenu significantly accelerating its launch plans, you saw commercial offers and network coverage both being built out. As operators which have deployed – and invested in – LPWAN technologies continue to pledge support for NB-IoT when it arrives, the mad dash for scale and credibility from LPWAN players is understandable.
While we might expect Mobile World Congress to set the year’s tone for many technologies and markets, it shouldn’t be surprising that the IoT story wasn’t dominated by one message. NB-IoT standards aren’t finalized. Carriers are trying to prove that they can deliver more than access into IoT solutions, but most have yet to prove their capabilities. In the middle of this, LPWAN startups are scrambling to establish a lasting foothold in the market. Key market dynamics are still unfolding and only time will tell how they play out.
For those who feel something of a letdown when Mobile World Congress comes to a close, this should be good news. It means that there will be plenty of IoT market and technology development to talk about during the rest of the year and at MWC 2017!