LPWA @ Mobile World Congress 2018

By Hannah Roberts, Programme Manager, Avren Events

Last week I joined the masses at Mobile World Congress, which was just as exciting, demanding and slightly overwhelming as it always is. I arrived on Sunday (wearing very comfortable shoes - I’ve finally learnt!) keen to hear the latest in IoT and see what the leading industry experts had to say about it. Here are a few of my key takeaways:

1. LPWAN is taking off in a big way

To date, there have been 41 licensed LPWA network launches in 25 countries; this is without even considering unlicensed coverage, which reaches almost every area of the world. Huawei are aiming to connect 20 million white goods, 15 million smart meters and 3 million cows by the end of this year. Imagine where we could be in 5 or 10 years...

2. The potential for applications is enormous

LPWAN is not just smart meters; I watched presentations on improving air quality in Taiwan, optimising agriculture processes in Turkey and increasing food safety standards in Korea. This is not to mention everything in the exhibition halls - from cows and vineyards to kid trackers and smart homes.

3. And this is only just the beginning

Applications will increase as the standard progresses. NB-IoT 2.0 (release 14) will improve capacity, coverage and throughput, enabling new use cases in payments, wearables and finance. As the technology advances and awareness grows, the ecosystem will develop, as forecasted by the GSMA: 50% of the installed base of IoT devices will be LPWA by 2025.

 

BUT

Did I see a "killer" application? It seems that we're still waiting for the ecosystem to come together and start generating scalable, commercially attractive applications. So what are the next steps for LPWAN? Where do we go from here?

At the risk of sounding like an advertising slogan,  there are three key things we need in order to take LPWAN to the next level: Education, Collaboration and Monetisation.

  • Education is the crucial next step. The average individual consumer will not be concerned with the type of network they are using, and products with connectivity included will play a big role in introducing them to the technology. However, when it comes to businesses and developers, there are other initiatives which can come into play. KPN, Vodafone and Deutsche Telecom are just some of the operators who host IoT academies, labs and testbeds; these raise awareness of IoT, encourage the formation of partnerships between industry players, and allow access to a free network for the development of solutions.
     
  • This leads nicely to my next point... collaboration. Telcos are assessing their position and beginning to move away from their traditional roles, instead working with other key players to encourage growth. Consider the impact of roaming on LPWA; this is vital for tracking and shipping applications, but requires commercial agreements between operators.  It was advised last week that smaller operators should base their network choices on those around them to encourage partnerships.
     
  • Monetisation is the final and most important piece of the puzzle. At the end of the day this is a commercial product, and in every seminar I heard a faint whisper from the audience of ‘but how will we make money from this?’ Ultimately, returns will come from the development of solutions which can be scaled. Consumer use cases are interesting but not immediately profitable, whereas simple applications such as metering, parking and lighting will be sold to the government by the millions, driving an ROI for everyone.