IoT connections outlook

The number of Massive IoT connections increased by a factor of 3 during 2019, reaching close to 100 million.

Key findings

  • Throughout 2019, the number of Massive IoT connections grew to reach nearly 100 million.
  • The pace of Massive IoT roll-outs in 2020 is expected to be slightly slower than previously forecast due to COVID-19.
  • In terms of cellular IoT connections, North East Asia is leading, accounting for over half of all connections in 2019.

The Massive IoT technologies NB-IoT and Cat-M1 continue to be rolled out around the world, but at a slightly slower pace in 2020 than previously forecast due to the impact of COVID-19. 2G and 3G connectivity still enable the majority of IoT applications, but during 2019, the number of Massive IoT connections increased by a factor of 3, reaching close to 100 million connections at the end of the year.

Massive IoT primarily consists of wide-area use cases, connecting large numbers of low-complexity, low-cost devices that have long battery life and relatively low throughput. NB-IoT and Cat-M technologies complement each other; out of the 123 service providers2  identified as having launched at least one of these, 25 percent have launched both. At the end of 2025, NB-IoT and Cat-M are projected to account for 52 percent of all cellular IoT connections. Cat-M and NB-IoT follow a smooth evolution path into 5G networks, and can continue to be deployed in the same bands as today, even when 5G is introduced. Commercial devices for Massive IoT include various types of meters, sensors, trackers and wearables.

Broadband IoT mainly includes wide-area use cases that require higher throughput, lower latency and larger data volumes than Massive IoT technologies can support. LTE is already supporting many use cases in this segment. By the end of 2025, 34 percent of cellular IoT connections will be broadband IoT, with 4G connecting the majority. With the introduction of 5G New Radio (NR) in old and new spectrum, throughput data rates will increase substantially for this segment.

Critical IoT is used for time-critical communications in both wide- and local-area use cases that require guaranteed data delivery with specified latency targets. Critical IoT will be introduced in 5G networks with the advanced time-critical communication capabilities of 5G NR. Deployment of the first modules supporting Critical IoT use cases is expected in 2021. Typical use cases include cloud-based AR/VR, cloud robotics, autonomous vehicles, advanced cloud gaming, and real-time coordination and control of machines and processes.

North East Asia is leading in terms of the number of cellular IoT connections. At the end of 2019, the region accounted for 54 percent of all cellular IoT connections, a figure set to increase to 67 percent by 2025.

Figure 22: Cellular IoT connections by segment and technology (billion)

Figure 22: Cellular IoT connections by segment and technology (billion)

IoT connections (billion)

IoT 2019 2025 CAGR
Wide-area IoT 1.6 5.5 23%
Cellular IoT* 1.5 5.2 23%
Short-range IoT 9.1 19.1 13%
Total 10.7 24.6 15%

*These figures are also included in the figures for wide-area IoT

IoT devices

The first 5G NR-capable IoT platforms have recently been released. Modules from several vendors are available, as well as tailored platforms for PCs and advanced wearables. In the second half of 2020 and during 2021, this is expected to expand to include use cases involving personal and commercial vehicles, cameras, industry routers and gaming. Such devices will initially support mobile broadband capabilities, but performance is expected to evolve towards time-critical communication capabilities where needed, via software upgrades on devices and networks.

1 Cat-M includes both Cat-M1 and Cat-M2. Only Cat-M1 is being supported today

2 GSA (April 2020)