5G IoT Module Models: A Niche for IoT as 4G Continues to Lead the Way…For Now

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By Harriet Sumnall | 1Q 2022 | IN-6428

There are a variety of different connectivity options for the Internet of Things (IoT)—cellular, cellular Low Power, Wide Area (LPWA), and proprietary LPWA, to name a few. Cellular connectivity is categorized by different technology, whereas 4G is stealing the show as evidenced by the majority of available IoT cellular module models that support the technology.

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IoT Connectivity Is Shaping Up

NEWS


Over 60% of the available IoT modules available at market are supporting 4G technology; the other 40% is made up of 2G, 3G, LPWA, and 5G. Out of the 1,000-plus modules catalogued, only 45 support 5G technology. Although there are plenty of 2G and 3G modules, it is unlikely that any new modules supporting these technologies will be made since the sunset of these networks is due to take place.

Why Is 4G So Popular?

IMPACT


4G technology has matured and is available worldwide. This is one of the reasons why LTE is generally the preferred technology for IoT solutions in comparison with cellular LPWA technologies (e.g., Narrowband- [NB-] IoT and LTE for Machines [LTE-M]) and with 5G where network rollouts are currently still in progress. With LTE infrastructure already in place, 4G also offers an easier option for connectivity as the network itself doesn’t need to be deployed—unlike some proprietary networks

4G will continue to offer connectivity throughout the IoT space, even as 5G matures and finds its place. As new 5G standards are finalized, an organic migration from 4G to 5G will naturally occur; however, 4G will be a natural fallback for 5G for a long time, except in the case of 5G-only private network deployments. Though the industry doesn’t want the progress of 5G to slow, 4G will probably continue to be used due to its ability to promise longevity as a network.

What Does This Mean for Emerging Technologies?

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ABI Research has catalogued over 1,000 IoT cellular modules in their IoT cellular module tracker that shows the split for each cellular technology. 4G cellular modules are the majority of the module tracker, though the question still remains: What about 5G and LPWA?

Cellular LPWA technologies NB-IoT and LTE-M are both in their growth stages. The slow speed in which this is taking place is not due to module manufacturers as there are a wide variety of LPWA-supporting module models available. More network rollouts are required to offer a stable network worldwide—similar to what 4G can offer—so that low-powered cellular technology can be used for a company’s best-suited applications. NB-IoT, for example, has seen significant growth in China.

5G—currently best known for enabling applications that 4G cannot enable—is a niche within IoT, and at this point it is much better suited to consumer broadband. Currently, price points for 5G are considerably higher than 4G. IoT can offer businesses solutions to problems at an economical price with higher price points when both connectivity and hardware are included. 5G is unable to offer this for IoT, except for those applications that 4G cannot enable.

In conclusion, 5G will be an emerging technology for IoT, but not for a long time. IoT will not see a significant use of 5G technology until further standardization takes place, price points lower significantly, and stability for 5G is the same as 4G. As ABI Research continues to monitor product portfolios of module vendors, it is suspected that there will be a significant increase of cellular LPWA supporting modules within portfolios and eventually more 5G-supporting modules as the technology evolves to be better suited to IoT.

 

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