The year 2020 may have spelled disaster for most industries, but the pandemic-marred year is turning into the biggest opportunity for the Internet of Things (IoT).
The COVID-19 pandemic is forcing businesses to question many processes they've taken for granted so far. How can processes be automated and monitored remotely to support social distancing measures? How will companies track inventories without requiring staff to mingle? And how will people working remotely manage household appliances with a minimum of distraction, and so on.
To solve many such issues, organizations will require connectivity between devices, and that brings Narrowband IoT (NB-IoT) to the fore. NB-IoT modules are already proliferating rapidly in contexts as diverse as smart locks, intelligent road management, asset tracking, animal monitoring, and smart home appliances.
With more than 140 million connections in Oct 2020, NB-IoT's ecosystem is mature, and the cost is significantly reduced due to the large-scale effect, as per GSMA. GSMA further predicts that the extraordinary potential in the connected industry has made industrial IoT the leading source of deployments to date, with smart manufacturing forecast to remain the fastest-growing IoT segment into the mid-2020s.
"The year 2020 is the year that changed everything. 2020 is also the year that technology accelerated faster than the GMSA forecast. Only 12 months ago, GSMA's forecast for 5G users in 2025 was 1.3 billion users. Now it is 1.4 billion and mobile and IoT have really started to impact our lives," Julian Gorman, Head of APAC – GSMA, said while speaking at the APAC IoT Innovation Summit.
Gorman was speaking at a panel titled "What 5G IoT means for smart cities and enterprises?" where he was joined by several APAC leaders, including Anuar Isa, Principal (Telecommunication) – PETRONAS, Feby Sallyanto, Chief Enterprise & SME - XL Axiata, Gerhard Loots, IoT Executive – Telstra, Sylwia Kechiche, Principal Analyst, IoT and Enterprise, GSMA Intelligence – GSMA, Tanapong Ittisakulchai, Chief Enterprise Business Officer (CEBO) - Advanced Info Service, and Tommy Wattimena, CEO – Sreeya Sewu.
IoT networks on the rise
Gorman pointed out that there are more than 40 IoT networks by more than 20 operators in APAC alone. "APAC is the home and growth engine for IoT with more than 25 billion connections. In the last 12 months, we have more than 60 operators and hundreds of innovators, and we are the largest APAC IoT community," Gorman said.
Telstra, Australia's largest telco, has deployed an NB-IoT network in Australia for three years now, allowing it to connect to the vast country's remotest parts.
"We had to overcome geographic challenges in serving our country in new ways. Our first step was to create a very large network in an innovative manner. On 3G/4G, we covered 2.5 million sq km, on CAT M1, we covered 3 million sq km, and on NB-IoT, we covered a massive 4 million sq km. We were the first company in the world to deploy NB-IoT with a 100 km radius having a subsequent radius of 120 km, covering areas that never had LTE coverage before. Our NB-IoT network has been live for almost three years, and we are able to serve a variety of use cases across industries," Gerhard Loots, IoT Executive – Telstra, said.
Similar to Telstra, many operators across APAC are planning to switch off 2G networks. NB-IoT can help take over these 2G IoT services and help countries maximize the spectrum potential.
NB-IoT is already endorsed by ITU as a 5G technology, meaning a long lifecycle spanning from 4G to 5G, which boosts the confidence in investment and development in the industry. Deployments such as those from Telstra are a testament to the growing demand for NB-IoT that is shaping the next wave of IoT deployments across the world.
"IoT revenues reached $115 billion in 2019, expected to triple to $343 billion by 2025. At the same time, APAC will increase its share of global IoT revenues from 33 percent to 38 percent," said Sylwia Kechiche, Principal Analyst, IoT and Enterprise, GSMA Intelligence – GSMA.
According to Kechiche, future growth will be aided by progress with useful data, while advances in AI and machine learning will increase data capability and value.
"Looking ahead, we see the highest growth coming from Enterprise IoT devices that are expected to grow 2.6x from 2019 to 2025, while we expect to see 1.7x growth in consumer IoT during the same period," she said.
Crisis turns into an opportunity
However, while COVID-19 impacted the growth of IoT in some of the segments, Tanapong Ittisakulchai, Chief Enterprise Business Officer (CEBO) - Advanced Info Service, pointed out that the mindset shift brought out by the pandemic has been the biggest accelerator for IoT adoption in the region.
"With the new normal, you'll see a shift from physical to digital both in consumer as well as business. A lot of new activities are coming up, such as learning from home, contactless solutions, cashless society, and also a lot of digital healthcare to support the new normal," Ittisakulchai said.
He added that AIS has since pivoted from being just a telecom player into a service provider focused on creating digital life powered by IoT. "We've created our own platform to serve our enterprise customers, but it is not just about technology transfer but the cultural transfer in the organization," he added.
Indonesia-based XL Axiata is experiencing similar growth due to the pandemic.
"Forced by the pandemic, we believe the business will be even more than before. We already cover over 95% of the population in Indonesia covered with 4G LTE," Feby Sallyanto, Chief Enterprise & SME - XL Axiata said.
"We would like to build not only the use cases but also nurture the ecosystem. We understand that we cannot only be looking at ourselves benefiting from IoT but also device makers, platform owners, application developers. We are trying to combine all these stakeholders in the ecosystem. We are creating solutions where everyone is taking benefits from the development of IoT work we are creating in Indonesia," Sallyanto added.
Sallyanto pointed out that XL Axiata has already allocated a spectrum for IoT within its current LTE setup. "To enable connection for sensors, we have capacity allocation within the spectrum that connects with our own platform flexIoT. We have also developed a facility where makers can connect with the community, university, and other industries that require the solution with a platform called Xcamp," Sallyanto said.
Despite such growth figures, IoT continues to be in its nascent stage in not just the APAC but also globally. According to GMSA Intelligence, the size of IoT deployments with less than 500 devices contributes to 64% of all APAC region deployments.
Such small scale deployments are a cause of multiple challenges that IoT is faced with currently. "Top three challenges enterprises are facing are related to integration with existing technology, security, and data privacy, and most importantly, the cost of implementation continues to be a top concern. Employee resistance, however, is on the decline due to improved training. However, lack of clarity around RoI continues to be a concern," Kechiche said.
With several large deployments in the region and improved training, the Asia Pacific region has the opportunity to lead the race in IoT and leverage technologies such as NB-IoT to connect the smallest parts of the country innovatively.