The wearable device market has grown tremendously over the last six years, from just $750 million in 2012 to almost $6 billion today. Following their rollout out last year, LTE-M and NB-IoT networks have matured, with increasingly more markets adopting cellular IoT as the only true long-term option for connecting the vast majority of emerging applications. This is perhaps most evident in the wearable space where cellular has a clear advantage over alternative solutions. Let’s take a look at the key areas:
- Mobility and Outdoor Connectivity: Mobility and outdoor connectivity are paramount requirements for wearable devices, especially for GPS trackers and fitness monitors, which expect to be outdoors for extended periods. Wi-Fi and Bluetooth simply lack the range required, while non-cellular LPWAN technologies – such as LoRa and Sigfox – are not built to support mobility, being data networks operating in islands of coverage. Only cellular IoT provides the necessary range and coverage for outdoor applications.
- Voice: Cellular is also enabling voice services. The ability to support VoLTE (Voice over LTE) opens up the possibility for additional use cases, such as emergency calls from wearables which don’t need an accompanying cellphone. Combined with other integrated features, such as GPS positioning, cellular-connected wearables provide enhanced security for applications including child trackers and monitors for wilderness sports enthusiasts.
When selecting the cellular chipset for a wearable device, one must keep in mind the following key features:
- Battery Life: Power requirements for wearables will often be measured in days to months, as opposed to the months and years demanded by other IoT applications. Nevertheless, the ability for cellular IoT chipsets to combine high integration and coverage with reduced power consumption will allow users to go for longer periods without needing to charge devices. This will prove crucial, even life-saving, for those spending extended periods outdoors, and will improve the user experience significantly.
- Size: Size will always be a differentiator for wearable devices. Whether they be smart watches, health monitors or any other form of wearable, devices must be as unobtrusive as possible without sacrificing on performance. While Cat-4 and Cat-1 chipsets made progress in size reduction, it is the new generation of LTE-M and NB-IoT chipsets that enable the smallest ever module sizes of 100mm2 or less.
- Cost: With the expectation of billions of connected devices over the coming years, it is essential that they can be sold at competitive prices.
With global wearable device shipments expected to exceed 190 million units by 2022, only cellular IoT is capable of meeting the demands of both current and emerging wearable applications, while guaranteeing an efficient and cost-effective solution. Moreover, the use of dual-mode LTE-M/NB-IoT chipsets provides an additional benefit to wearable developers and consumers, enabling them to support and operate devices in any geographic location, regardless of the predominant network coverage.