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Global IoT growth surges – 28 billion connected devices by 2021

Mobile phones continue to be the largest category of connected devices, but in 2018 they are expected to be surpassed by IoT, which includes connected cars, machines, utility meters, remote metering and consumer electronics.

IoT devices are expected to increase at a compounded annual growth rate (CAGR) of 23% from 2015 to 2021, driven by new use cases. In total, around 28 billion connected devices are forecast by 2021, of which close to 16 billion will be related to IoT.

1.5 billion IoT devices with cellular subscriptions by 2021


Growth in number of IoT devices globally

Growth in number of IoT devices globally

There were around 400 million IoT devices with cellular subscriptions at the end of 2015. Cellular IoT is expected to have the highest growth among the different categories of connected devices, reaching 1.5 billion in 2021.

The growth is due to increased industry focus and 3GPP standardisation of cellular technologies. Cellular connections benefit from enhancements in provisioning, device management, service enablement and security.

Within IoT, two major market segments with different requirements are emerging: massive and critical applications.

Massive IoT connections are characterised by high connection volumes, low cost, requirements on low energy consumption and small data traffic volumes. Examples include smart buildings, transport logistics, fleet management, smart meters and agriculture. Many things will be connected through capillary networks. This will leverage the ubiquity, security and management of cellular networks.

Today, around 70% of cellular IoT modules are GSM-only. Network mechanisms are being implemented, resulting in extended network coverage for low-rate applications. Additional functionality will allow existing networks to support different device categories and enable prioritisation of devices accessing the network. Network system improvements, such as sleep mode, will support battery lifetimes beyond 10 years for remote cellular devices.

Critical IoT connections are characterised by requirements for ultra-reliability and availability, with very low latency. Examples include traffic safety, autonomous cars, industrial applications, remote manufacturing and healthcare, including remote surgery. Today, LTE’s share of cellular IoT device penetration is around 5%.

Cost reductions will make LTE-connected devices increasingly viable, enabling new, very low latency applications. This will be achieved by reducing complexity and limiting modems to IoT application capabilities.

Evolved functionality in existing LTE networks, as well as 5G capabilities, is expected to extend the range of addressable applications for critical deployments. Between 2015 and 2021,  connections are expected to grow with a CAGR of 23%.

Over that time, Western Europe will add the most connections, led by growth within the connected car segment. A connected car is counted as one device, though it may have hundreds of sensors.

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