50B target for total connected devices now seems a more distant dream

Our recent report on leading players and disruptors in the Internet of Things (IoT) only serves to highlight how difficult it is to track and quantify this rapidly expanding and extremely broad market.

Countless companies are developing products and services that are all loosely grouped under the IoT moniker -- from smart city services through to low-power devices with very low data throughput requirements, connected cars, smart meters and more. Developers of new connectivity solutions are also vying to become the first port of call for companies wishing to sell new types of connected devices and services to end users.

As for the future growth of this industry, "50 billion devices by 2020" became something of an industry mantra, and included smartphones, laptops, tablets, machine-to-machine (M2M) communications and the new and growing breed of connected consumer devices.

However, forecasters have recently been backtracking from this lofty and somewhat scary forecast. Indeed, the latest Ericsson Mobility Report predicts that there will be close to 16 billion connected IoT devices by 2021 with 28 billion connected devices in total. IoT is expected to overtake mobile phones as the largest category of connected device by 2018.

If the report reflects a more realistic view of what lies ahead for the IoT, then all well and good -- especially given the challenges that connecting billion upon billion of devices will present. The IoT is already littered with forecasts, spurious claims and fragmented approaches to connectivity options that are more likely to slow down than speed up the adoption of such services.

Interestingly, and perhaps not surprisingly, Ericsson also expects cellular IoT to have the highest growth rate by 2021, rising from 400 million to 1.5 billion devices by that point. It noted that this is due to an increased industry focus, 3GPP standardisation of LTE-based narrowband-IoT technology and EC-GSM-IoT as well as the growing maturity of operators' IoT businesses.

However, non-cellular IoT is still expected to account for 14.1 billion devices in 2021, up from 4.2 billion in 2015.--Anne