Unlicensed IoT tech could reap greater returns than cellular, report warns

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Operators could gain twice the service revenues from unlicensed Internet of Things technology than cellular connectivity, a new report has claimed.

Juniper Research predicted that the number of connections powered by unlicensed technology, such as Sigfox, LoRa and Ingenu, will increase from 50 million by the end of this year to almost 400 million by 2022.

The report warned unlicensed alternatives to the likes of NB-IoT and LTE-M could be a threat to operators' return on investment. It said service revenues from unlicensed tech will be 102 percent higher than its cellular rivals by 2022.

It said non-cellular tech benefits from no costs from spectrum acquisition or radio development, allowing it to be deployed rapidly and cheaply.

However, Sam Barker, the report's author, warned: “Unlicensed spectrum M2M service providers must focus on rapid expansion of their networks’ coverage in order to offer the same breadth of services that can be offered by network operators.”

Cellular low-power IoT technology will reach 100 million connections by 2022, although it did not give any figures for the number of connections in 2018.

It said the technology's higher data rates and wider coverage would make it ideal for smart city connections, with connections in this area set to grow by 313 percent per year until the end of 2021.

Other advantages of this technology include its reliability for over the air updates and IP-based communication and its longer ranges than unlicensed tech.

Last month, Belgian operator Proximus said it planned to extend its LoRa network this year, while Deutsche Telekom recently announced it would bring NB-IoT to cover the likes of wine, tools and bridges.