SAN JOSE, Calif. – The hype phase is over. Engineers are rolling up their sleeves to do the hard work of building an Internet of Things.
Early projections for IoT are now seen as overblown. But the market still has huge potential, so a widening circle of companies and consortia is looking ahead to big challenges in areas such as interoperability, security and ease-of-use.
You could trace the end of the beginning to June 2015. That’s when one market researcher and former engineer got tired of the inflated predictions of tens of billions of connected devices just around the bend. He decided to put out a more sober forecast.
At his first event dedicated to the Internet of Things, Linley Gwennap estimated 1.9 billion new IoT devices would ship in 2020, up from about 200 million he projected were shipping at that time, mainly in the industrial space. Gwennap took a bottom’s up approach to sizing the market that resulted in a far less rosy view than the 50 billion devices in 2020 that Cisco Systems optimistically forecasted.
Since then, the outlook has darkened slightly.
At its latest event in late July, the Linley Group said the IoT market won’t hit a run rate of a billion units a year until 2019. The problem is consumer systems expected to make up the brunt of the market someday are still too expensive and too hard to use, said senior analyst Mike Demler.
“Connecting things to Wi-Fi is so difficult and unreliable that it’s been holding things back,” he said, giving an example of his frustrations with an Amazon Echo.
In their candid moments, chip executives pursuing this nirvana agree. “IoT is in a bit of a trough right now,” Tyson Tuttle, CEO of Silicon Labs told EE Times in late June.
The consumer IoT has yet to have its "iPhone moment" when a design fires the public imagination, Tuttle complained. “It will take multiple decades for IoT to play out,” he said, adding that he still believes it represents “the biggest opportunity of our lifetime.”
Comparisons of smartphone-based chips for midrange wearables (top) and MCUs with Wi-Fi. Click to enlarge (Tables: Linley Group)
Engineers are feeling some blowback from the IoT bubble bursting, said Gwennap.
“Last year and the year before a lot of chips were popping up like MCUs with integrated radios and chips targeting smart watches and other wearables. This year, I am seeing less interest. We are not seeing follow-ons to last year’s products and more people are just repurposing existing smartphone SoCs,” the market watcher said.
Few innovative chips makes it harder for OEMs to craft the iPhones of the consumer IoT. The good news is in communications.
Chips for Bluetooth mesh and the 802.11ah version of W-Fi for low cost, long range connections over 900 MHz bands should ship this year. Outside the smart home a handful of new options--LoRa, Sigfox, Cat-M1 and NB-IoT--are expanding the still-new low power wide area (LPWA) sector.
NEXT PAGE: Web giants and distys jump into the fray