30 billion IoT devices by 2027 … and why 1 in 12 will rely on satellite connectivity

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Dr Dawie de Wet (Pr. Eng. M.Sc. Eng.) – Group CEO of Q-KON and Chief Engineer for Twoobii, a southern African supported satellite broadband service.

THE Ericsson 2021 Mobility Report forecasts that by 2027 there will be over 30 billion Internet of Things (IoT) connected devices in use globally. Previously, Ericsson forecast 20bn devices for 2023, and the actual number in 2021 was 14.4bn, showing that their growth projections are broadly accurate. Between 2021 and 2027, connected IoT devices are expected to increase at a CAGR of 13%, driven by new use cases and increased affordability, plus usual bell curve models of innovation adoption.  

Connected IoT devices will include connected cars, machines, metres, sensors, point-of-sale terminals, consumer electronics and appliances, and wearables. The wearables category could conceivably expand to include implanted devices, although there would be multiple ethical issues to overcome here. From a communications perspective, IoT services are grouped as wide-area IoT, cellular IoT and short-range IoT applications. 

Communication Network Perspective 

The Ericsson communications analysis divides the IoT market into wide-area and short-range applications. The short-range segment largely consists of devices connected by unlicensed radio technologies, with a typical range of up to 100 metres, such as Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and Zigbee. This category also includes devices connected over fixed-line local area networks and powerlines.  

The wide-area segment comprises devices that use cellular connections, as well as unlicensed low-power technologies, such as Sigfox and LoRa. At the end of 2021, an estimated 1.9 billion IoT devices were already connected via cellular connections. This number is projected to reach 5.5 billion in 2027, or almost 100% of the projected 5.9 billion devices in the wide-area category. By 2027 the short-range segment in contrast is expected to be 24.3 billion devices, or some 80% of the connected devices market. 

Connectivity Requirement

It’s important to note that the Ericsson analysis does not make it clear that the short-range communication network architecture must include a wide-area network circuit, or backhaul link, that connects the “on-site” short-range network with the centralised cloud infrastructure. 

Each and every Wi-Fi, Bluetooth or Zigbee network deployed by a user must also be integrated with a reliable backhaul link to access the IoT applications hosted in the cloud. 

“Off-grid” short-range network locations, i.e., locations which are not connected to the national telco mobile or fixed line telecommunication grid, will require the necessary backhaul connectivity to be provided by alternative infrastructures, whether satellite or wireless.  

Based on a conservative estimate that 10% of short-range network locations will be “off-grid”, this represents a need for alternative connectivity for some 2.4 billion devices. That adds up to almost 50% of the planned mobile networks! 

Conclusion 

As can be expected, the fundamental requirement in order for this change to happen is the availability of reliable and scalable connectivity. The wide existing footprint of cellular networks, and the emergence of 5G, Ericsson’s forecast of 5.5 billion devices connected via cellular networks seems entirely plausible.  

However, based on the total market forecast, it is expected that 2.4 billion devices will be operating from “off-grid” locations and will therefore have to be connected using alternative networks such as satellite. 

To learn more, visit www.twoobii.com and www.qkon.com

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