The challenge for Radio-Frequency (RF) electronics manufacturers to secure value in the Internet of Things (IoT) industry stays relevant today.
RF ELECTRONICS FOR IOT – OLD TECHNOLOGIES, LOW VALUE
The Internet of Things (IoT) is often described as a wireless network of electronics-based components. The Radio Frequency (RF) part of an IoT device is thus extremely important as it is linked to critical characteristics of the product, such as power consumption, data throughput or security.
Silicon technologies linked to the IoT and dedicated to currently commercial protocols have long been developed and are therefore mature and available. Kits embedding all discrete RF components on a single Printed Circuit Board (PCB) have also appeared, such as STMicroelectronics’ STM32 node or the Hager Group’s Hager Smart RF Module.
In term of commercial appeal for silicon manufacturers, currently existing IoT components are low cost, low margin products, with low volumes in the IoT field. The niche IoT market is more of a prospective investment opportunity then an area of potential income. In IoT systems, whichever the protocol, the RF transceiver remains relatively low cost with open intellectual property (IP) and the adjacent electronics stay relatively basic and unchallenging. As an example, STMicroelectronics’ STM32 IoT platform includes 192kB of flash memory, 20kB RAM and 6kB EEPROM. This performance has long been attained by inexpensive technologies.
The truly tremendous value of IoT lays not in the electronics, but mostly in data transmission and processing, and in data usage. In Yole Développement’s analysis typically, from the total cost of ownership of a device, less than 5% is expected to go to the component manufacturers. 40% would go for data transmission and processing and 50% for the data analysis and its application.
RF PROTOCOLS FOR IOT – A DIVIDED SPECTRUM OF SOLUTIONS
It has been commonly stated that IoT has three main enablers: being low cost, being wireless and being secure. Managing to reach all three is a real challenge that has to be met by the transmission protocols.
In this context, a myriad of protocols has emerged. EnOcean offers high density, low energy consumption building automation. WirelessHart provides high density industrial automation. SigFox enables low-density networks with international coverage. While these are good examples, dozens exist today.
In order to analyze these protocols, we identified eight typical application-oriented protocol characteristics. These characteristics are network density, power supply, transmitted data, coverage, geolocation, solution price, solution availability and security of the data transfer.
Positioning protocols using these characteristics, we noticed a lot of empty spaces. For example there is no low cost, high security, low power technology yet. This was expected, as it is all a matter of compromises. High data throughput is not compatible with extremely low power consumption, for example.
RF FOR IOT – SLOWLY CROSSING THE ENTRY BARRIER
The IoT is still only at an early adoption stage, and silicon giants developed a lot of the relevant electronics long ago. For example, the Ultra-Low Power (ULP) components from Microchip are off-the-shelf efficient products dating back to the late 2000s. Radio-transmission protocols like ZigBee were designed for IoT more than a decade ago. All IoT basic building blocks now exist, and now no technological barriers remain for IoT implementation, or if they do they are low. Nevertheless, this industry is taking a long time to reach large volumes and may not become the anticipated trillion-device market soon.
One entry barrier that is often foreseen is module development cost. Product design includes hardware design and prototyping, mechanical engineering, and firmware development. This can easily amount to 250,000€ minimum for a single product based on off-the-shelf electronics.
Companies that have been able to develop solutions, apart from wearable electronics that address millions of people at once, are of two kinds. They are either large corporates that can handle the extra cost, or Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) addressing niche markets with clearly-identified client needs.
For example, French hypermarket giant Carrefour subcontracted the development of fleet tracking devices for their delivery carts. Tekelek, an SME that is leading in its niche market of tank monitoring systems in Europe, subcontracted the development of a sensing device for multiple clients.
Another entry barrier is the need for large corporates to rethink their whole business model, and go from component and device manufacturers to service providers. Large IoT networks can potentially appear, but the value chain doesn’t exist yet. Creating a whole new chain means tremendous investments from large electronics corporates in order to change their business models and adapt to the IoT’s dynamics and potential.
IoT started at first as a market of specialty products. Now we are in the phase where IoT will slowly be adopted, but there is no foreseeable “IoT Boom”. Some products will find mass market, but they will stay marginal at first and mostly in the consumer electronics area.
In this report, we have decided to take a focused look at the different protocols and protocol families that coexist. We managed to structure the spectrum of solutions that are available today and in the near future. We have offered our take on the sustainability of each of them as well as their potential for development. We have also forecast the general RF for IoT market looking at protocol families and differentiating incomes related to transmission operations and commercialization of electronic components.
Objectives of the Report
This report’s objectives are to:
- Ecosystem identification and analysis
- General market dynamics
- Market barriers and enablers
- Product acceptance and growth dynamics
- Value repartition across the industrial chain
- Market size and market forecast in $M and Munits
- Comprehensive analysis of radio protocols
- Key categories of technologies
- Technology positioning and market potential
- Technology competitive analysis
- Main technical and market challenges
- Future directions