2019 Preview: Mobile grows further beyond phones

Apple Watch
The Apple Watch can be connected to cellular networks. (Pixabay)

Editor’s Note: This article is part of our 2019 Preview feature, which looks at the big topics facing the industry next year. Click here for the 2019 preview in the wireless industry, click here for the 2019 preview in the video industry, and click here for the 2019 preview in the wireline industry.

The bulk of the worldwide wireless industry is focused on smartphones. That’s no real surprise: Smartphones have helped to revolutionize global internet access and, in many cases, many core parts of humanity’s day-to-day culture.

In the process, many of the world’s mobile network operators have grown into massive corporations employing hundreds of thousands of workers.

But in 2019, a trend that has shown some signs of growth will likely find additional footing. That trend is the internet of things, and connected devices specifically.

Connected devices are essentially those devices that are connected to a wireless network that are not phones. Such devices can range from automobiles to watches—and the category is showing clear signs of growth. Indeed, according to research firm Chetan Sharma Consulting, 2017 was a landmark year for the U.S. wireless industry because, for the first time, operators added more cars than phones during the period. And connected cars will likely continue to be an important market considering smartphone penetration levels are passing the 100% mark.

Similarly, the Apple Watch has helped to stamp out another significant connected device opportunity for U.S. wireless network operators. For example, BayStreet Research found in May that the nation’s wireless network operators collectively are selling tens of thousands of Apple Watch devices every month, and the vast majority of those sales include a new line of wireless service.

Although the market for smartwatches and the market for connected cars have little in common, they’re tied together by the necessity of a cellular network connection.

And, as the internet of things continues to evolve, many expect such connections to become much more commonplace. After all, it’s an opportunity that operators are clearly chasing: During 2018, Verizon, AT&T and T-Mobile all worked to implement network technologies like LTE M and NB-IoT that are specifically designed to power smaller, inexpensive gadgets like watches and other devices.

As 2019 progresses, it’s reasonable to assume that the nation’s wireless network operators will work hard to connect other non-phone devices to their networks—for a fee, of course.