Research analysis
LPWA networks grow significantly in 2019, but prospects unclear
Benson Wu, DIGITIMES Research, Taipei

While the number of lower-power wide-area networks (LPWAN) in commercial operations and the number of connected devices of these networks both expanded exponentially in 2019, NB-IoT networks ended the year to account for 70% of these LPWA networks, with its connected devices six times those situated on eMTC (enhanced Machine Type Communication or LTE-M)-based networks, Digitimes Research has found.

There were a total of 114 operators in 57 countries worldwide offering commercial LPWAN services as of September 2019, showing a significant growth from a year earlier, according to GSA (Global mobile Supplier Association).

The availability of LPWA chips and modules that are fully compliant with the 3GPP Release 14 standards, and the subsidies offered by China's telecom operators to LPWA module makers, were the crucial factors driving the fast expansion of commercial LPWA networks in 2019, said Digitimes Research.

However, the fact that over 85% of connected devices globally are controlled by the world's top-10 LPWAN operators indicates that the size of the domestic market is a key factor in determining the scale of the IoT market. As a result, due to a lack of economies of scale in some countries, the promotion of IoT applications globally may not reach satisfactory leves in the short to medium term.

Meanwhile, factors including high initial investments for the build-ups of LPWA networks, slower returns on equity, and the fact that IoT revenues currently account for less than 3% of their overall mobile service business, have impeded the world's major LPWA network operators to expand significantly their LPWAN services, or have even slowed down related investments.

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