Billions of connected “things” are a reality as wireless sensor networks (WSN) integrate with massively scaled cloud services, according to the latest study by global IoT research firm ON World.
“Plummeting chipset prices, multi-protocol radios and free cloud infrastructure offerings will ensure more IoT devices are connected to the Internet than users within the next two years,” says Mareca Hatler, ON World’s research director. “This has accelerated IoT adoption as the network incompatibility argument fades away and applications become the primary differentiator.”
Short Range Trends
Zigbee is the leading WSN technology for smart homes and buildings with its robust mesh networking and migration path to IP using the Thread protocol. Dominant in the wearables market, BLE is growing even faster for WSN applications such as lighting controls, door locks, thermostats and industrial sensors. BLE opportunities will grow even faster with the completion of Bluetooth mesh in July.
Combo chips that include BLE, 802.15.4, WiFi and/or proprietary protocols in the same chip are a growing trend. A few of the WSN suppliers with combo chips and mesh networking include Nordic Semiconductor, NXP, Qualcomm, Silicon Labs and TI.
Long Range Trends
Low Power Wide Area Network (LPWAN) technologies such as Sigfox, LoRa, LTE-M and NB-IoT have energized the Internet of Things with 5+ year battery life for wireless sensors that communicate over many miles. In addition to dozens of mobile operators worldwide, LPWANs have drawn wireline operators such as Comcast that is deploying LoRa networks across 12 major U.S. cities.
LPWAN primarily targets different applications than short range WSNs but these are competitive especially in markets such as smart cities, metering, asset tracking, buildings and industrial automation. Combining LPWANs such as Sigfox or LoRa with short range wireless technologies (e.g., BLE, WiFi or proprietary) is a growing trend. The benefits include seamless smartphone/app connectivity, increased localization accuracy as well as remote firmware “over-the-air” updates.
By 2022, there will be 7 billion Internet connected wireless sensing, tracking and control devices using BLE, Zigbee/Thread, LoRa, Sigfox, LTE-M1 or NB-IoT. The majority will use a short-range radio but LPWAN technologies will increase 2.5 times faster.