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How to quickly develop cellular IoT devices

A few years ago, there was a lot of optimism about the number of connected cellular IoT devices in 2020 – hundreds of millions, even billions of connected devices. But reality has shown that developing cellular IoT (CIoT) devices has been slow. Now there is a viable solution for enterprises to build CIoT devices and accelerate the uptake quickly, and at the end of the day, grow their business.

Partner Manager IoT


Partner Manager IoT

Partner Manager IoT


Understanding the market

In 2016, the standard organization that develops protocols for mobile telecommunications, also known as 3GPP, introduced their 13th release to the market. This introduction enabled chipset manufacturers to offer chipsets based on new low power wide area technologies called NarrowBand-IoT(NB-IoT) and LTE-M. In return, this would pave the way for device makers to build new cellular IoT devices to help enterprises with their IoT solutions. It was then believed that hundreds of millions, or even billions, of cellular connected IoT devices would be on the market by the year 2020, and that many of these devices would be based on either LTE-M or NB-IoT.

Fast-forwarding to 2019, it became clear to the industry that the forecasted uptake would not happen. By the end of 2019, only around 100 million LTE-M and NB-IoT devices where shipped (“Cellular and LPWA IoT Device Ecosystems,” IoT Research Series 2019, Berg Insight), and the majority were deployed in China. Simultaneously, approximately 130 networks throughout the world had support for either NB-IoT or LTE-M, showing that the coverage wasn’t the real issue of the low uptake.

What is the actual issue behind the slow market, and why aren’t there more CIoT devices available? To answer these questions, Ericsson and D15-IoT Studio conducted market and customer research to find the answer.

Challenges of developing cellular IoT devices

To build new cellular connected IoT devices, you need several types of new skills. This includes embedded development, mechanic design, electronic design, certification, and, perhaps most importantly, cellular knowledge. You might need an antenna, radiofrequency, and cellular modem skills to build your device.  

In general, it can take between 9-12 months to develop a cellular IoT device from scratch and can cost up to 2 million USD, including tooling and certification. It is an expensive undertaking for small and medium enterprises to build cellular IoT enabled devices from pre-development to market introduction.

Cellular LPWA constrained device product development based on a module

Limited availability and maturity

Another pain point when building an IoT enabled device on new technology is that you must know the latest technology and its existence. You must also be able to test it in an easy way, end to end. For quite some time, this was not the case for LTE-M and NB-IoT. However, since April 2020, there are over 154 deployed NB-IoT or LTE-M networks, managed by 123 operators in 59 countries (“NB-IoT & LTE-M: Global Ecosystem,” GSA, April 2020). This is a critical enabler when developing a cellular IoT device. Testing the network might be needed throughout the development process.

Difficult to industrialize

Currently, some great tools on the market enable developers and device makers to start developing their first proof of concept of their cellular IoT devices. However, many of these tools fall short in several aspects. The industrialization aspect of the device making, the lack of power efficiency, and the embedded libraries needed to build a small and power-efficient cellular IoT device can be out in the field for multiple years.

Our market and customer research showed that the key inhibitors of a long and expensive development process, limited availability and maturity, and the difficulty to industrialize were the main barriers for better uptake. Knowing these inhibitors, Ericsson partnered up with Sigma Connectivity (Design House) to create a reference design to accelerate and simplify building cellular IoT devices for enterprises, called Ardesco.

Ardesco combi

Benefits of Ardesco

  1. Accelerates your products to the market

Ardesco has focused on adding the most basic features that most enterprises would need to develop a cellular IoT device. This means that around 50-70% of product development has been done and can be used as a reference when creating the final product. This will help accelerate product development, lead to a shorter time to market, and reduce development costs.  

  1. Easy to build and develop

As part of the reference design, Ardesco also offers many of the tools needed when building a cellular IoT device.  Enterprises have access to hardware schematics, software development tools, including Visual studio code extensions, libraries, and example code to build an asset tracker.

  1. Scalable

By working with an Ardesco design house partner, such as Sigma Connectivity, enterprises can receive the help they needed to customize, build, and industrialize the product they want to make.

With tools like Ardesco, enterprises can bring their CIoT products faster to the market and grow their revenue streams.

To learn more about how Ardesco can be used to help you accelerate the building of your industrialized CIoT product, please contact:

Learn about Ardesco and our partner

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