SAN FRANCISCO — Mainstream appliances will ship with cellular links next year. The data point was one of few specifics from a gathering of carriers and customers of cellular IoT here.
About half of Sears’ Kenmore-brand appliances now in development will have some form of wireless networking. About 10 percent of the company’s appliances now in use support Wi-Fi or Wi-Fi/Bluetooth combo modules.
To avoid increasingly crowded home networks, the appliance maker is shifting some designs to LTE Category-M as modules hit the $10 price of today’s Wi-Fi/Bluetooth devices. The links send about 22 different data readings to remote monitors.
“My techs can use that data to determine the health of the system very specifically over time,” said Chris McGugan, general manager of innovation for the appliance maker, speaking at the Mobile IoT Summit, part of the Mobile World Congress Americas event here.
The data helps Sears get valuable insights into how its products are used. It also cuts the number of times that it needs to send out repairmen.
In addition, Sears hopes that LTE will automate the process of connecting appliances. “Most consumers don’t understand how to work their Wi-Fi … on average, only 11–12 percent of connected devices actually get on the home network,” said McGugan.
The OEM’s job also has its challenges. Major appliances typically have a two-year design cycle and can carry as much as $50 million in machining costs, he added.
Cellular IoT is also getting traction in asset tracking, often coupled with Bluetooth in delivery vehicles or factory-floor systems, said Bob Proctor, chief executive of Link Labs. “Generally speaking, you have to be able to work with many technologies,” he said, noting that his company uses LoRa and Wi-Fi as well as LTE Cat-M and Bluetooth.
Overall, the promise of cellular IoT seems huge, but the market is still in its infancy, making up less than 3 percent of carrier revenues today, according to a representative of Nokia, which co-sponsored the event.
Next page: Carriers bullish on cellular IoT
IoT execs from AT&T, Verizon, Sprint, and T-Mobile spoke at the event.