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4G dominates IoT with more than 60% of all cellular module models

Internet of things research programme finds 4G represents 60% of the module models catalogued, spanning both high bandwidth and low bandwidth, with 5G lagging currently

A study from global technology intelligence firm ABI Research into internet of things (IoT)-enabling technology has found that despite 5G being a key driver of connectivity being added to a plethora of devices, 5G represented just 4.34% of IoT module models available.

The findings are from ABI’s IoT cellular module model database market data report, collated after the analyst actively monitored the activities of 52 IoT cellular module suppliers for the previous two years, collating available information about their module portfolios into a single central repository. Overall, 1,037 IoT models from across the module suppliers were presented, but the analyst noted that although 5G was not a novelty, only 45 catalogued 5G IoT module models were available.

This was not surprising, said ABI, because 5G was not applicable to many IoT applications outside the automotive space and for fixed wireless terminals, due to the original release of 5G baseband modems being aimed at consumer mobile broadband market.

By contrast, the largest technology generation of module models catalogued was 4G, which was also no surprise, said ABI, because, unlike 2G and 3G, 4G was not under threat from network sunset. 4G represented 60% of the module models catalogued, spanning both high bandwidth – Cat.12 to Cat.20 – and low bandwidth – Cat.1 to Cat.4.

ABI also noted that 4G was a technology that is globally available and is the current technology of choice for mid- to long-term future-proofing of IoT devices. Making up a further 20% of the catalogued module models were those featuring low power wide area (LPWA) technologies, namely NB-IoT and LTE-M. LPWA was said to be still in its earliest stages of growth, with most of the module sales activity to date being in China, and for NB-IoT.

Although LPWA was still emerging as a connectivity technology within the IoT, it is likely to become the leading technology of choice for many applications, such as smart street lighting, in years to come, said Harriet Sumnall, IoT hardware and devices research analyst at ABI Research. “Module vendors will be releasing more of both 5G and LPWA module models as these technologies find their feet within the IoT space,” she said. “It must be noted, however, that any sluggishness in the uptake of any technology is not due to the lack of availability of module hardware.”

Other research has found that as the world pivots to 5G, low-power systems are also evolving to meet the needs of IoT. Strategy Analytics has predicted that despite a slow start outside China, the market for licensed LPWA cellular connections will grow to almost 900 million connections by 2025, significantly outstripping unlicensed LPWA connections over the same period.

Its study, IoT licensed low-power cellular connections by vertical, assessed the opportunities in the licensed LPWA market, covering low-power licensed spectrum IoT cellular connections through narrowband NB IoT and by LTE M across a number of vertical industries.

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