Ericsson outlined an evolutionary vision for cellular IoT to help service providers address future needs of industry verticals such as automotive, manufacturing, and utilities as they work to enhance 4G LTE networks and prep for 5G.
Ericsson identified two market segments that it plans to address in coming years: broadband IoT and industrial automation IoT. Those two join a pair of existing segments that Ericsson has called massive IoT and critical IoT.
Broadband IoT refers to mobile broadband capabilities of IoT where higher data rates and lower latencies are needed for use cases such as infotainment in cars, drones, and augmented reality/virtual reality. The focus on industrial automation IoT will address areas such as collaborative robotics.
The broadband IoT technologies that Ericsson described include drone detection, link control, radio access network (RAN) slicing, advanced subscriber group handling, and multi-gigabit LTE.
“Cellular IoT is moving from early adoption with massive IoT to global rollout,” said Fredrik Jejdling, executive vice president and head of networks at Ericsson, in a statement. “We are now describing what’s next for our customers and how they can make the most out of their 4G and 5G investments on the same network and address more advanced IoT use cases across industries.”
The company explained that carriers can make use of network slicing techniques to support all four IoT segments that Ericsson identified on a single network. This will allow them to optimize their assets while tapping into revenue with industries. Ericsson has said that the number of cellular IoT connections is expected to grow by 27 percent annually around the globe, reaching 4 billion connections in 2024.
Some industry analysts previously segmented the IoT market in similar fashion as the four areas Ericsson identified, although not always as formally. Two analysts welcomed Ericsson’s announcement.
“I think what Ericsson has outlined is notable as it helps close the gap between 5G hype and reality,” said Zeus Kerravala, an analyst at ZK Research. “The four IoT segments can help businesses looking to accelerate their IoT deployments understand how and where to leverage 5G.”
Kerravala said many industry evangelists profess that IoT is the killer app for 5G, when many IoT apps can now rely on 4G LTE and WiFi. “The initial wave of 5G will be mobile broadband and then we will have a long cycle” to when 5G becomes essential, he added.
“The thing I liked about what Ericsson has done here is that, unlike most of the industry, they are focusing on 5G use cases rather than just the technology,” Kerravala added. “I do believe that 5G is a lot of hype because it’s hard to find a killer app for it.”
Steve Hilton, an analyst at MachNation, added, “Ericsson is making sure that carriers can tailor their Ericsson networks to individual segments of the market. One size doesn’t fit all in IoT. That’s true when thinking about IoT apps, quality, latency, and bandwidth.”
On a deeper level, Ericsson is responding to a concern by carriers about following the old fashioned “build it and they will come” approach to network deployment, Hilton added. “Today’s smart carriers are building the type of networks that their customers want. This is one of the beauties of software-defined networks. A carrier can pick only what it wants to deploy to match expected demand,” he said.
Ericsson’s outlook relies in part on enhanced functionalities for what the company calls massive IoT with narrowband (NB-IoT). In deployments announced last September, Ericsson was able to double the cellular range of NB-IoT devices to 100 kilometers through software updates without changes to the devices. That was an increase from the 40 kilometers stated in 3GPP specifications.
That range extension “opens huge opportunities for IoT connectivity in rural and remote areas, particularly logistics, agriculture, and environment monitoring,” Ericsson said in a statement.