IoT Will Have iPhone Moment – Weightless CEO

The emergence of a low-cost chip that could be used in any device could trigger an IoT boom, according to the CEO of standards group Weightless.

Iain Morris, International Editor

April 12, 2016

4 Min Read
IoT Will Have iPhone Moment – Weightless CEO

LONDON -- Smart IoT London -- A trigger event akin to the 2007 arrival of the iPhone will be the catalyst for an Internet of Things (IoT) boom, according to William Webb, the CEO of the Weightless Special Interest Group, which is looking to play a key role in the market for low-power, wide-area network (LPWAN) technologies.

Speaking on a panel at this week's Smart IoT London exhibition, Webb expressed skepticism about various forecasts of the number of connected devices there will be in the next few years, noting how wrong analysts had been about mobile data in the run-up to the licensing of 3G technology.

"Everyone predicted it would be a great thing in 2000 and nothing happened until the iPhone was launched in 2007, and it's now vastly bigger than anyone expected in 2000," he said. "I think some trigger event will happen [in IoT] and it will be much bigger [than anyone expects]."

While Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO) and Ericsson AB (Nasdaq: ERIC) have been linked with predictions there will be 50 billion connected devices in use by 2020, analyst firms have been a little more restrained in their forecasting. Gartner Inc. expects the number to rise from 6.4 billion this year to about 20 billion in 2020, while Machina Research -- whose CEO Matt Hatton featured on the same panel as Webb -- reckons it will grow from about 5 billion today to around 25 billion in 2025.

Elaborating on what an IoT "trigger" might entail, Webb said it could be the emergence of a very low-cost chip that could be included in just about any device to support connectivity. "That could change the world dramatically," he said.

Machina's Hatton, however, said the IoT market was too diverse for a single trigger to fuel growth in all parts of the industry, noting the considerable differences between the smart-metering and automotive markets to illustrate his point. "Incredibly cheap sensors are all very well for environmental sensing but not for connected cars," he said. "We have to allow for a bit of diversity."

As someone backing an open standard, Webb also believes proprietary technologies are ultimately doomed in the IoT business and that only two open connectivity standards will survive in the long run -- one supporting connections on licensed spectrum and the other catering to unlicensed spectrum needs.

Unsurprisingly, Webb tips Weightless as the technology that will triumph in the unlicensed area.

Want to know more about the Internet of Things? Check out our dedicated IoT content channel here on Light Reading.

Based in the UK city of Cambridge, the Weightless SIG draws support from some major technology players, including chip designer ARM Ltd. and systems integrator Accenture , but faces competition from rival LPWAN technologies such as Sigfox , a proprietary alternative, and LoRa, whose most prominent backers include French operators Orange (NYSE: FTE) and Bouygues Telecom . (See Orange Hails LoRa Breakthrough as Bouygues Ups IoT Game.)

All three claim to be able to support low-bandwidth IoT applications at a fraction of the cost of existing cellular technologies.

The question is whether they will be able to maintain that advantage as low-power and wide-area capabilities make their way into forthcoming versions of LTE technology. Orange has already hinted that LoRa may be a short-term solution until cellular alternatives using licensed spectrum appear. (See LoRa May Not Be for Long Haul at Orange.)

In the meantime, operators face criticism that current pricing models are holding back the development of certain types of IoT services.

Guy Summers, the head of M2M connectivity for Spain's Telefónica , acknowledged concerns while speaking on the same panel as Webb and Hatton. "It's a fair point," he said in response to audience questions. "When we get LTE-M then business models will probably change and we'll get lower price points but we have to invest an awful lot in our networks to do it."

LTE-M is one of the low-power LTE specifications aimed at making 4G a friendlier technology for the IoT.

During February's Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, US giant AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T) announced plans to conduct trials of LTE-M in the next few months. (See AT&T to Test 4G Specs for Unwiring IoT.)

— Iain Morris, Circle me on Google+ Follow me on TwitterVisit my LinkedIn profile, News Editor, Light Reading

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About the Author(s)

Iain Morris

International Editor, Light Reading

Iain Morris joined Light Reading as News Editor at the start of 2015 -- and we mean, right at the start. His friends and family were still singing Auld Lang Syne as Iain started sourcing New Year's Eve UK mobile network congestion statistics. Prior to boosting Light Reading's UK-based editorial team numbers (he is based in London, south of the river), Iain was a successful freelance writer and editor who had been covering the telecoms sector for the past 15 years. His work has appeared in publications including The Economist (classy!) and The Observer, besides a variety of trade and business journals. He was previously the lead telecoms analyst for the Economist Intelligence Unit, and before that worked as a features editor at Telecommunications magazine. Iain started out in telecoms as an editor at consulting and market-research company Analysys (now Analysys Mason).

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