As the world becomes “smarter,” finding ways to connect data points along the IoT (Internet of Things) highway is becoming a stress point. Berg Insights has compiled a database covering the 500 largest cellular IoT deployments worldwide, including various types of projects and product categories deployed across all types of vertical markets including OEM (original-equipment manufacturer) automotive, aftermarket automotive, transport and logistics, utilities, infrastructure, buildings and security, retail, industrial, consumer electronics, healthcare, and others. The database includes project size and geographical distribution by the end of 2021 as well as a five-year forecast for each individual project.
The projects included in the top-500 list together account for approximately 480 million active cellular IoT subscriptions, corresponding to as much as 22.8% of the total number of cellular IoT connections worldwide at the end of 2021. The 500 projects on the list are forecasted to grow to 949 million units by 2026, corresponding to an overall CAGR (compound annual growth rate) of 14.6%. More than 90 deployments on the list have surpassed 1 million subscriptions and the top-10 projects alone account for over 159 million units.
Transport and logistics represent the largest vertical in terms of the number of projects that made the top list, followed by aftermarket automotive, retail, utilities, OEM automotive, buildings and security, healthcare, and industrial. OEM automotive is the largest vertical in installed base, accounting for 157 million units, ahead of utilities at 89 million units and transport and logistics representing 96 million units.
Using data from Europe and North America, Berg found the number of connected EV charging points reached an estimated 3.3 million units in 2021. Europe represents the largest share comprising around 2.6 million of these charging points, corresponding to a connectivity penetration rate of 57%. In North America, about 0.7 million of charging points were connected, equivalent to a connectivity penetration rate of 52%. Growing at a CAGR rate of 40%, the number of connected charging points in the two regions is expected to reach 18 million in 2026.
But transportation is only one of the IoT categories Berg follows. Their databases include such esoteric applications as EM (electronic monitoring) of offenders. The number of participants in EM “ankle bracelet” programs daily in Europe (50,000), North America (371,000), and Latin America (96,000) is estimated to grow to 77,000 in Europe, 821,000 in North America, and 184,000 in Latin America by 2026. The total market value in the three regions combined is forecasted to grow at a CAGR of 10.8% from $1.2 billion in 2021 to $2.1 billion in 2026.
Another example on the IoT highway, the installed base of smart gas meters in Europe amounted to 45.9 million units in 2021, equal to a penetration rate of 38%. The installed base will continue to grow at a CAGR of 8.7% between 2021 and 2027, reaching 75.9 million units at the end of the period.
Annual shipment volumes amounted to 6.6 million in 2021 and are expected to gradually decrease in the coming years with the completion of several large-scale nationwide rollouts. France, the U.K., Italy, and the Netherlands were the most active markets in 2021, together accounting for close to 95% of all smart gas meter shipments during the year.
While the rollouts in Italy, France, and the Netherlands will soon be completed, the U.K. market is expected to ramp up yearly installations to reach a high of 3.4–3.6 million units per year during 2023–2025. Belgium and Ireland are two other markets that are expected to contribute with significant shipment volumes in the next few years.
The smart gas meters deployed in Europe have not been networked in quite the same way as their counterparts in the electricity sector. A common model, observed for example in the U.K., the Netherlands, and Belgium, is to use a local wireless or wired interface to transmit gas data via the customer’s smart electricity meter. A mix of 169 MHz RF and 2G/3G cellular communications has been the primary model for the largest projects in which smart gas meters have been deployed independently of smart electricity meters, such as in Italy and France.
A change of the status quo might be coming as new types of LPWA (low-power wide-area) technologies have become more readily available. The Italian gas sector became the first in Europe to initiate large-scale adoption of NB-IoT (narrow-band IoT) as a primary smart meter connectivity choice and in 2021 the installed base of gas meters with NB-IoT connectivity almost doubled in the country to reach 1.7 million.
The composition of communication technology in the installed base of smart gas meters is expected to shift in the coming years. In 2021, 169 MHz RF was the most common communications technology with a market share of 40%. By 2027, Zigbee is expected to surpass 169 MHz RF to become the most prevalent connectivity option with an installed base of close to 24.9 million units. NB-IoT/LTE-M is expected to grow with a CAGR of 35.6% during 2022–2027 to reach an installed base of 10.7 million units in 2027, making it the third most common connectivity option on the European smart gas meter market.
Another emerging technology trend is the anticipated increase in the use of hydrogen in European gas supply operations. As the properties of hydrogen differ significantly from those of natural gas, meter vendors will have to put in place relevant technological and strategic roadmaps in order to position themselves in the new European renewable energy sector.
Meanwhile, the penetration of smart electricity meters in North America reached 74% in 2021. Overall, the installed base of smart electricity meters will grow at a CAGR of 4.8% during 2021–2027 to reach a total of 173.4 million units by 2027. Over the next six years, the penetration of smart meters in the U.S. will reach a level of 93% while the comparable figure for the more advanced Canadian market will be slightly higher at 94%.
According to the study, yearly shipments of smart electricity meters in North America will grow from 10.7 million units in 2021 to 17.3 million units in 2027. The Covid-19 pandemic had a obvious impact on deployments during 2020 with a year-over-year decrease of around 13% in annual shipment volumes. The market has since experienced an increase in shipments and the number is expected to peak in 2024 at 18.4 million units and thereafter slightly decrease to a level of 17 million units until the end of 2027. Meanwhile, second-wave rollouts for early adopters are now also ramping up and will grow their share of annual shipment volumes from around 12% in 2021 to around 75% by 2027.
Alongside the increase in replacement smart-meter projects, the development of smart metering technology in the North American market has shifted focus to serving new demands beyond smart metering. The utilities are now looking to leverage their existing networks for a wider range of smart city applications while also trying to figure out how to cope with the integration of the rapidly increasing number of electric vehicles and distributed energy resources into the grid infrastructure. Besides increased computing power and edge analytics capabilities that enable a new set of benefits, utilities are more and more looking to integrate multiple smart city applications into a single solution.
With the increased deployment of smart gas and electricity meters, along with the growth of cellphones and other data instruments, the cellular networks in the EU and U.S. will likely become stressed. The continuing rollout of 5G will help alleviate this bottleneck but the anticipated introduction of 6G in 2028 can’t come soon enough for IoT projects.
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