China is running away with cellular IoT market, say three reports

Cellular IoT, the catch-all term for 2G, 3G, and 4G IoT connections, is the subject of a trio of new reports from analyst houses, and by their accounts, China is running away with the competition. With strong government support for IoT projects, as part of its ongoing industrial transformations, as well as its response to environmental challenges, China seems to be driving NB-IoT growth in a major way.

Figures from Counterpoint Research note that China Mobile expected to add 100m IoT devices in 2017, and had hit 150m total by mid-year – although the Chinese MNO doesn’t breakdown the ‘smart connections’ by application or connection protocol. However, it dwarfs globally second-placed Vodafone, claiming 32% of global connections, compared to Vodafone’s 11%.

According to the estimates, China Unicom took third place with 9%, with AT&T in fourth on 6%. China Telecom scored fifth, with 5% – meaning that the Chinese market holds 46% of the global market for cellular IoT connections.

In terms of regions, Asia held 57.2% of the global market, in Q4 2017, and China’s number of connections grew the fastest – 75% year-on-year. The US market accounted for 19.6% of the global total, and the global market grew some 41% year-on-year. The LTE connections led the cellular IoT increase, achieving 84% year-on-year growth.

“China serves as a model, where Chinese operators such as China Mobile and China Telecom are ramping up the roll-out and deployments at a rapid pace. This is also having a knock-on impact of lowering the overall module, device and service costs,” said Peter Richardson, research director at Counterpoint.

In a separate report regarding Cellular IoT, Berg Insight says that the number of global subscribers grew 56% in 2017, reaching 647.5m – and is expected to reach 1bn by the end of 2018, and then 2.7bn in 2022.

Like Counterpoint, Berg says that China is taking the lead. “The Chinese government has set a goal to connect 600m devices to NB-IoT networks by 2020. NB-IoT will essentially replace 2G technology, which accounted for the bulk of the 150m new cellular IoT connections added in the country in 2017. In the process, the cost of 4G-based cellular IoT chipsets and modules will fall dramatically, paving the way for a similar transition worldwide,” said Berg’s Tobias Ryberg.

The third forecast comes from Mobile Experts, which is predicting that NB-IoT will account for 57% of cellular IoT shipments by 2022 and will “drive an entirely new ecosystem of suppliers and devices,” according to chief analyst Joe Madden. “Connectivity will shift from GPRS or LTE Cat-4 to Cat-M or NB-IoT, with much longer battery life and more affordable devices.”