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November 17, 2011

GSMA Predicts 24 Billion Connected Devices in 2020

By Gary Kim, Contributing Editor

The GSMA (News - Alert) expects the number of total “connected” devices to increase from nine billion in 2011 to more than 24 billion in 2020. “Mobile connected devices” (presumably those with a subscriber information module) will grow 100 percent from more than six billion in 2011 to 12 billion in 2020.

The addressable revenue opportunity for mobile operators is about $1.2 trillion by 2020, a seven-fold increase from expected revenues in 2011, GSMA estimates, based on research by Machina Research.

Connected devices are “smart wide area and short range devices that have the benefit of connecting to a network, including: remote sensors, remote monitoring, actuating devices, associated aggregation devices, PCs, laptops, tablets, eReaders, mobile handsets, femto cells and routers,” the GSMA says. Proliferation of Connected Devices

The GSMA says “mobile connected devices are either currently or likely to include SIM technology and therefore be connected by wide area mobile networks.”

The $1.2 trillion revenue estimate represents the potential revenue that a pure-play mobile network operator could earn.

The forecast includes potential revenues from the sale of mobile devices, data traffic, applications, system integration, installation, and service revenues.

Those definitions are important, because there is no widespread agreement on what it means to call something a “connected device.” By some definitions, connected devices are non-phone, non-PC devices operating in machine-to-machine mode. Tablets and mobile broadband modems, such as personal hotspot devices, would not be considered “connected devices.”

Others define “connected devices” as anything using a mobile network other than a smartphone. That tends to be the way AT&T (News - Alert) uses the term at the moment, for example.

The GSMA includes all Wi-Fi-capable devices within the definition of “connected devices.” The logic appears to be that any Wi-Fi device can contribute to the value of, and demand for, mobile or fixed broadband services.

The point is that definition matter, greatly, when trying to estimate the future revenue streams from all sorts of network-using devices. Still, virtually everybody believes connected devices other than smart phones will drive much revenue growth in the future.

Aside from notebook PCs, many Americans now own portable or mobile devices that already are capable of mobile communications, or increasingly will be capable of mobile communications.

According to Nielsen, the typical owner of any one of these devices actually also owns three to five additional devices within these categories.

That means a large potential base of mobile and portable devices that will be candidates for Wi-Fi and mobile broadband services in the future, in numbers that dwarf the installed base of "phones." Connected device markets

What remains to be developed are pricing plans that account for ownership and use of multiple devices, most of which are designed for content consumption or entertainment more than communications. Broadband plans that allow a user to connect multiple devices at various times, at prices deemed reasonable, will be a huge opportunity, going forward.

So far, most consumers have shown only modest interest in $60 a month plans that connect PCs, though mobile service providers now are experimenting with demand for $15 to $45 a month plans for tablet devices and smartphones.

Those are steps in the right direction, but what ultimately will be needed is the equivalent of family plans for data devices, where the "family" might be a single user or household wanting to use multiple devices on a single access account.

Gary Kim (News - Alert) is a contributing editor for TMCnet. To read more of Gary’s articles, please visit his columnist page.

Edited by Rich Steeves
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