For IoT device builders, cellular IoT is one of the most reliable and accessible ways to enable Internet connectivity. By 2026, cellular IoT devices will hit a global total of 5.7 billion, according to ABI Research. Cellular IoT adoption is growing because it is easy to deploy and scale. All you need is a cellular modem and a connectivity provider, right?
Yet, understanding the nuances of emerging wireless technology can be overwhelming. As an IoT product owner or builder, you are ultimately responsible for revenue and growth of the business. One of the many decisions you’ll inevitably face is what wireless technology you should embed in your product. Here are my top suggestions that will help you avoid the common pitfalls in choosing the right cellular technology for your IoT product.
Tip #1 – Choose the right technology for your product life cycle stage
The first thing I look at when advising customers when evaluating connectivity options is to determine where you are in your product life cycle. Are you evolving an existing product or bringing a brand-new product to market?
If you’re evolving an existing product, then you may have a specific reason you are reconsidering your connectivity options. For example, you may be looking for the best cellular technology that will allow you to scale and expand globally with ease. Or, you may be enhancing your product features and may need new technical capabilities like the potential battery savings that comes with LTE-M and NB-IoT networks.
If you’re building a new product, especially in an emerging category, you may primarily care about time to market. For example, when the micro-mobility market exploded, the primary consideration was getting scooters on the streets as fast as possible to capture market share. It was a race to deploy. In this situation, the ability to prototype and test SIMs quickly would be more critical.
Tip #2 – Focus development resources on your unique product value
Every day you spend building your cellular connectivity infrastructure is a day you’re not building your actual product differentiation or a day you’re late to the market. That could mean your competitors are beating you.
At start-ups and, frankly, even at enterprises, engineering resources are often scarce and building everything in house is not the best strategy. Cellular technology can be complex, and many connectivity solutions require your engineering teams to become experts in telecom, taking their time away from more value-creating work. Reliable connectivity is table stakes, but it doesn’t mean you need to devote countless resources to it. It’s not uncommon for a company to spend 3+ months fully integrating into a carrier. That’s three months you could be making your product better.
I recently saw a retweet by Jeff Lawson, CEO of Twilio, that summarizes this point precisely:
Tip #3 – Choose the best-fit cellular connectivity for now
Each IoT project involves far more than, “I need the thing to connect to the internet.” With connecting devices, the networking technology landscape remains complex and fragmented with no one-size-fits-all option capable of addressing all IoT use cases. With so many existing and emerging wireless technologies – LTE-M, NB-IoT, 4G, 5G – which is right for your current IoT initiatives? There are many (almost an overwhelming amount) considerations:
- How much data do you need to transmit every month? If you send significant data, look to LTE and cross NB-IoT off your list.
- Does your application need to operate the battery for a long period? Cat-M and NB-IoT are two low-power options and are members for the 4G family that will carry over into 5G.
- Do you need high-speed connectivity? Usually, LTE will do the trick here, as speeds can easily reach upwards of 100 Mbps. But if it’s ultra-high, consider looking into 5G.
- How much does it cost you or your customers if connectivity fails? Will you lose revenue dollars every time that occurs? LTE has the most ubiquitous coverage today and in the next few years, so you’ll always be able to reliably connect.
A common trap for a product leader or builder is getting stuck in endless connectivity evaluation. Don’t spend six months evaluating Cat-M vs. Cat-1 while your competitor rolls out the easiest option and beats you to market (then adjusts to a better option in their next version).
Tip # 4 – Don’t chase leading technologies
Newest isn’t always the best. Telecom technology typically has a long time to maturity and broad coverage. For instance, a recent IDC survey finds only 9% of respondents are using 5G for their cellular projects. Most respondents (79%) are currently using 4G for their cellular IoT deployments. You should always fit the technology into your product needs – whether it’s speed to market, resiliency, or specific performance criteria – not the other way around.
If you have a new product, it may make sense to choose the most resilient technology you can that will allow you to quickly test your business model. Ensuring your connectivity simply works will allow you to get customer feedback on your unique value proposition – not whether you chose the right connectivity partner or technology. For example, LTE-M is a great technology and can provide benefits like battery life improvement and lower BOM costs, but it’s still not widely deployed globally. Unless your product requires the specific benefits early on, choosing LTE Cat 1 might make more sense.
Tip #5 – Consider a software-first cellular technology stack
One of the best ways to navigate the fragmented landscape for IoT connectivity is to consider a software-first cellular solution that has a pure software technology stack (from the mobile network core to the SIM). Why Software-first? Because it will allow you to test faster and speed your time to market. It will likely provide a set of APIs and developer tools to incorporate fleet management into your existing business workflows and backend processes. It can make connecting devices to the internet and managing them easier than before. A software-first solution also tends to be scalable and future-proof, allowing organizations to focus on delivering innovative IoT experiences to customers even as their needs evolve. For example, a software-first mobile core could be deployed anywhere in the world quickly, potentially enabling you to dramatically lower latency or comply with local data regulations.
Let me close by saying that when it comes to connectivity selection, find resources who can advise you through all stages of your product lifecycle – from startup to scale. Align your connectivity selection to your product and go-to-market strategy. Spend time building your unique value to customers and find someone you trust to help walk you through connectivity strategy. The more you do that, the more likely you are to be successful.
Your business is not the underlying telecom technology, it’s your unique value proposition to your customer. Let that be the driving force behind your connectivity selection.
About the author: Taylor Wolfe leads the Global IoT Sales and Business Development organization at Twilio. Taylor came to Twilio from T-Mobile US where he spent years leading teams in Corporate Strategy working on a variety of projects from pricing optimization to large scale M&A. Leveraging experience in both telecom and technology, he enjoys helping customers unlock the key to growth and profitability in their businesses. After landing on IoT as the perfect interaction of two worlds he has been building the go-to-market engine for Twilio IoT ever since.
Edited by Erik Linask
Read More:5 Tips for Fast and Successful IoT Product Connectivity