Abu Dhabi investment fund buys 1.85% Jio Platforms stake

Reliance Industries have found a fifth investor to purchase a handsome stake in Jio Platforms, its digital business unit, with Mubadala signing a $1.2 billion cheque for 1.85%.

Confirmed via Twitter, Khaled Abdulla Al Qubaisi, CEO of the Aerospace, Renewables and ICT portfolios for Mubadala, revealed the $1.2 billion investment will make the firm a stake holder in Jio Platforms, the holding company of disruptive telco Reliance Jio and numerous other digital ventures. “This investment is in line with our current ICT strategy and complements our portfolio of investments in telecoms, satellite operations, data centres and other ICT infrastructure,” Al Qubaisi said.

For Reliance Industries, it certainly caps off a successful seven weeks, though who knows whether there are other irons in the fire.

Jio Platform investments since April 22, 2020
Partner Stake Investment Date
Mubadala 1.85% $1.2 billion 4 June
General Atlantic 1.34% $860 million 18 May
Vista Equity Partner 2.32% $1.5 billion 11 May
Silver Lake 1.15% $750 million 4 May
Facebook 9.9% $5.7 billion 22 April
Total 16.56% $10.01 billion

As you can see from the table above, it certainly has been a profitable couple of weeks for the Reliance Industries MD Mukesh Ambani. Aside from the additional cash which is being invested into the business to continue network deployment and upgrades, there are some interesting synergies.

Facebook, for example, offers interesting opportunities to work with SMEs in the emerging cashless economy. General Atlantic already invests in Doctolib, digital healthcare platform in Europe to connect health professionals and patients. Mubadala is the same.

One of the Mubadala investments happens to be Yahsat, a satellite company which offers voice and data coverage across 161 countries. Not only could this company assist Jio by improving the connectivity patchwork in India, it is also an interesting partner to have in the mix for international roaming.

Each of these investors have expertise and investments which would be of interest to the Jio connectivity mission, or the second wave of monetization which follows the democratisation of the mobile internet.

4G subscriptions in India (2015-21), thousands
Year Bharti Airtel Vodafone Idea Reliance Jio Other Total
2015 1,459 21* 77 1,557
2016 10,800 9,541* 72,000 3,700 95,150
2017 30,000 36,998* 160,091 22,466 242,130
2018 77,067 75,300 280,100 22 433,061
2019 127,345 104,200 370,000 604,745
2020 180,491 105,062 406,978 702,686
2021 219,718 110,344 403,310 754,803

*For simplicity, Vodafone India and Idea Cellular subscriptions have been bundled together

Source: Omdia World Information Series

The table above offers a lot of information, but there are a few very important points which we would like to draw attention to.

Firstly, the total number of 4G subscriptions in India. At 754 million, there is still plenty of headroom for growth in a country where the population exceeds 1.3 billion. Secondly, the Reliance Jio disruption dragged the India market through a digital revolution from 2016 onwards. And third, Reliance Jio has a much greater opportunity to diversify revenues through digital services as it has more 4G subscriptions than its rivals.

When you look at the subscriptions data for all mobile technologies, adding everything from 1G through to 5G, the market share battle looks a lot more flattering for Bharti Airtel and Vodafone Idea, but it is a misleading picture. We are focusing on the 4G subscriptions as there is much more potential for additional revenues from this generation of mobile connectivity.

The blunt force object approach to telecoms is selling more subscriptions at an attractive price. Reliance Jio is clearly better at this than rivals, and there is more opportunity to sell 4G contracts in India. This will make Reliance an interesting investment, but the more savvy investors will look at everything this connectivity enables.

Through Jio Platforms, Reliance Industries has launched ventures into digital entertainment, AI, enterprise connectivity, IOT and many others. Democratising connectivity is an entry point to build a second wave of businesses as more of India is brought into the digital economy. These additional investments could be healthcare orientated, offering an alternative to traditional banking infrastructure or digitising government services. As the growth of Silicon Valley has shown, there is potential to make fortunes by leveraging connectivity.

This is why Jio Platforms is getting foreign investors excited. There is so much more to India’s digital economy than selling 4G subscriptions.

A look back at the biggest stories this week

Whether it’s important, depressing or just entertaining, the telecoms industry is always one which attracts attention.

Here are the stories we think are worth a second look at this week:


GSMA cosies up to O-RAN Alliance

The GSMA, the telco industry lobby group, has announced a new partnership with the O-RAN Alliance to accelerate the adoption of Open Radio Access Network (RAN) technologies.

Full story here


Europe backtracks on market consolidation opposition

The General Court of the European Court of Justice has annulled a decision made in 2016 to block the merger between O2 and Three in the UK, potentially opening the door for consolidation.

Full story here


Huawei CFO loses first legal battle in extradition case

Huawei CFO Wanzhou Meng, the daughter of Ren Zhengfei, has lost her first legal battle in Canada and will now have to face an extradition case.

Full story here


Data privacy is in the same position as cybersecurity five years ago

It has taken years for the technology and telecoms industry to take security seriously, and now we are at the beginning of the same story arc with privacy.

Full story here


Indian telco association pushes for ‘floor tariffs’ on data pricing

In an open letter to India’s telecoms regulator, the Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI) has pressed for quicker decision making on pricing restriction rules.

Full story here


UK’s National Cyber Security Centre launches another Huawei probe

The National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) has confirmed it is attempting to understand what impact potential US sanction directed towards Huawei would have on UK networks.

Full story here


 

UK Gov launches IOT cybersecurity fund

The Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) has launched a £400,000 fund to fuel ambition for the security of internet-connected products.

The ultimate hope will be to kick-start the development of an assurance market for consumer internet-connected products such as wearable devices or smart doorbells. Such assurance schemes could offer accreditation for products which have undergone relevant tests, providing more confidence for consumers to purchases and to make full use of all functionality without fear of poor security.

“We are committed to making the UK the safest place to be online and are developing laws to make sure robust security standards for consumer internet-connected products are built in from the start,” said Digital Infrastructure Minister Matt Warman.

“This new funding will allow shoppers to be sure the products they are buying have better cyber security and help retailers be confident they are stocking secure smart products.

“People should continue to change default passwords on their smart devices and regularly update software to help protect themselves from cyber criminals.”

The idea is a simple one, but a very good one. Should such assurance programmes be nurtured correctly, and the general public be made suitably aware, it would become a factor in the buying decision making process. Manufacturers would be effectively coerced into compliance as sales could be impacted without the presence of the certification.

Alongside this initiative, new laws in the UK will come into play for both enterprise and consumer internet-connected devices. Any device sold in the UK will soon have to adhere to three rules:

  1. Device passwords much be unique with no option to restore to factory settings
  2. Manufacturers must create and maintain a public point of contact to report device or software vulnerabilities
  3. Manufacturers must state how long the device will receive security updates

These rules should form the basis of a more secure digital economy, though product assurance programmes would add more credibility and confidence in the quickly developing segment.

Recent figures from IDC suggest the wearables market is growing, 29.7% year-on-year for the first three months of 2020, though the numbers could have been higher. The on-going COVID-19 pandemic limited shipments due to supply chain disruptions and sourcing component for the products.

While the consumer IOT segment is still in the early development stages, it is critical the industry set the standards on security. Should the segment be allowed to progress too far with bad habits, attempting to correct mistakes and bad practice will become much more difficult. The UK should be applauded for its attempts to get ahead of trends, and hopefully other Governments are taking note.


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Work from home helps drive up wearable market by 30% – IDC

The Q1 wearable shipment numbers showed strong growth, with the wireless headset segment up by nearly 70%, partly driven by working from home employees’ need to block out unwanted noise.

In its latest wearable tracker, the research firm IDC saw the overall market go up by 29.7% over the same quarter in 2019. The strongest growth was in the so-called ‘hearables’ segment, which is essentially wireless earphones and headsets. This segment increased by 68.3% and accounted for 54.9% of the 72.6 million wearable market.

“The hearables category was seemingly resilient to the market-suppressing forces caused by COVID-19,” said Jitesh Ubrani, Research Manager for IDC Mobile Device Trackers. “Consumers were clamouring for these sophisticated earpieces not only for the abilty to playback audio but also to help them increase productivity, as many of them were forced to work from home and sought ways to reduce surrounding noise while staying connected to their smartphones and smart assistants.”

The other categories in the total wearable market includes wristbands and watches. IDC estimated the wristband segment grew by 16.2%, helped by the launch of Fitbit’s new Charge 4. However, the watch category has seen a 7% decline. IDC attributed the contraction primarily to supply chain disruption in China caused by COVID-19.

“The downward pressure on watches shifts the onus to the latter half of 2020,” said Ramon Llamas, Research Director for IDC’s Wearables Team. “This gives companies the time to refine their products and messaging, and to align those with customer needs. Given the hyper focus on overall health and fitness in today’s climate, vendors would do well to highlight those capabilities, and provide guidance on how to live healthier lives.”

Incidentally, this estimate of the watch market is rather different to the smartwatch market numbers published by Strategy Analytics earlier this month, when it estimated a 20% increase in the segment. SA also believed Apple Watch volume grew by 23% in Q1 to reach 7.6 million.

“Apple’s global smartwatch market share has grown from 54 percent to 55 percent, its highest level for two years,” Neil Mawston, Executive Director at Strategy Analytics said. “Apple Watch continues to fend off strong competition from hungry rivals like Garmin and Samsung. Apple Watch owns half the worldwide smartwatch market and remains the clear industry leader.”

IDC, on the other hand, put Apple Watch’s sales volume in Q1 at 4.5 million units, down by 2% from a year ago. Such is the difficulty posed to research firms when Apple, the market leader does not disclose device volumes.

It is also worth noting that the two research firms are reporting on slightly different market segments. IDC, in addition to smartwatch, also includes what it calls ‘basic watch’ in its market estimate, by which it refers to those watches that have computing and data processing power as well as wireless connectivity but do not run third-party applications. IDC does not split the volume of two types of watches it reports on in its publicly available data.

Here are the market estimates from the two firms:

City of Austin jumps in bed with NTT Data for smart city project

While some of the buzz surrounding smart cities has quietened, NTT Data is boasting of a new initiative with the City of Austin to address traffic-related issues.

Initially focused on easing congestion through the Texan city, the initiative could be expanded to numerous other areas for traffic management. This is a very small trial for the moment, focused on intersections of Cesar Chavez Street and Trinity Street and Neches Street and 8th Street, though additional locations will be added in time.

“We are piloting NTT because these solutions have the potential to help Austin digitally transform how people move safely through the city,” said Jason JonMichael, Assistant Director of Smart Mobility at Austin Transportation. “By better understanding the data and causal effects of problems we see in challenging areas, we can develop effective solutions that meet the community’s needs.

“Evaluating data is key to reaching our Vision Zero goal of eliminating fatalities and serious injuries on Austin roadways. Smart technologies like this one will help us prioritize improvements to make our streets safer.”

Using NTT’s Accelerate Smart data platform, the project will collect traffic-related and mobility data through vehicle counting and classification, as well as wrong way vehicle occurrences. The project will allow for the delivery of real-time alerts and traffic statistics that improve predictions, traffic management and future infrastructure planning.

This initiative ties into the overarching Vision Zero project in the city, to end deaths and serious injuries on Austin roadways. The majority of these projects are civil engineering based, adding a second left-turn lane to Slaughter Lane at South 1st Street for example, but all are underpinned by data collection and analysis.

A look back at the biggest stories this week

Whether it’s important, depressing or just entertaining, the telecoms industry is always one which attracts attention.

Here are the stories we think are worth a second look at this week:


Facebook reignites the fires of its Workplace unit

Facebook has announced its challenge to the video-conferencing segment and a reignition of its venture into the world of collaboration and productivity.

Full story here


Trump needs fodder for the campaign trail, maybe Huawei fits the bill

A thriving economy and low levels of unemployment might have been the focal point of President Donald Trump’s re-election campaign, pre-pandemic, but fighting the ‘red under the bed’ might have to do now.

Full story here


Will remote working trends endure beyond lockdown?

It is most likely anyone reading this article is doing so from the comfort of their own home, but the question is whether this has become the new norm is a digitally defined economy?

Full story here


ZTE and China Unicom get started on 6G

Chinese kit vendor ZTE has decided now is a good time to announce it has signed a strategic cooperation agreement on 6G with operator China Unicom.

Full story here


ITU says lower prices don’t lead to higher internet penetration

The UN telecoms agency observes that, while global connectivity prices are going down, the relationship with penetration is not as inversely proportion as you might think.

Full story here


Jio carves out space for yet another US investor

It seems the US moneymen have a taste for Indian connectivity as General Atlantic becomes the fourth third-party firm to invest in the money-making machine which is Jio Platforms.

Full story here


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Xiaomi grows in Q1, but Q2 is where the danger lies

Xiaomi has reported revenue and profit rises through to March 31, but let’s not forget this does not include the period of extensive lockdowns in European markets.

With total revenues coming in at roughly $7 billion, a year-on-year increase of 13.6%, profits grew by 10.6% to approximately $320 million. Considering the backdrop of COVID-19, this would be considered a healthy performance through the three-months, though investors will have to brace for the impact of societal lockdowns during April and May in Western Europe, a growth region to Xiaomi.

“Although the industry is facing severe challenges, the Group still experienced growth in all segments despite the market downturn, which fully reflects the flexibility, resilience and competitiveness of Xiaomi’s business model,” said Xiaomi CEO Lei Jun.

“We believe a crisis is the ultimate litmus test for a company’s value, business model and growth potential. As the impact of the pandemic starts to ease, we will continue to focus on the ‘5G + AIoT’ strategy and strengthen our scale of investment, in order to let everyone in the world enjoy a better life through innovative technology.”

Jun might be positive, but it is dampened success in comparison to previous quarters,

Xiaomi year-on-year financial performance for 2019
Period Revenue Profit
Q4 +27.1% +34.8%
Q3 +5.5% +20.3%
Q2 +20.2% +49.8%
Q1 +27.2% +34.7%

Source: Xiaomi corporate blog, Mi Global

Although there was a dip in performance during the third quarter, which could be attributed to a slowdown in smartphone shipments in its Chinese domestic market, Xiaomi is a company which has been on the rise. Success has been in the international markets primarily, and the executive team will hope the dampened success will only be temporary as the world begins to open-up again.

The issue is April and May, which will show up in the next quarterly earnings report. International revenues have been a significant driver for Xiaomi in recent years, and this quarter saw 50% of revenues attributed to the overseas markets.

Over the first three months of 2020, IDC attributed 31.2% of shipments in India to Xiaomi, while Canalys estimated Xiaomi’s smartphone shipments grew by 58.3% year-on-year in the European markets, accounting for 14.3% market share. In Italy, France and Germany it ranked it the top four smartphone manufacturers, while it claims to be number one in Spain. The growth numbers in LATAM, the Middle East and Africa were even more impressive.

Unfortunately, the majority of markets where Xiaomi is seeing success are the ones where lockdown has been severely impacting smartphone sales. In Europe, IDC said smartphone revenues could be down 10% optimistically, but worst case scenario could see sales slashed by as much as 47%.

Xiaomi has estimated that as of mid-May, the weekly number of smartphone activations in the European market had returned to over 90% of the average weekly level in January. Sales are gradually beginning to recover, but they are still not at the levels which would have been expected and more than half of this quarter has already passed. It is not a good sign, but these are certainly extenuating circumstances.

Investors have not exactly been thrilled with the news either. Xiaomi share price, on the Hong Kong stock exchange, is down 2% at the time of writing having started the day with a brief surge.

The saving grace for Xiaomi is diversification, however.

One business unit is leveraging the Xiaomi brand and existing customer base to drive sales in IoT and lifestyle products segment. The IOT platform now has 252 million connected IoT devices on it (not including smartphones and laptops), while there have also been progress in selling TVs, wireless earphones, electric scooters, robot vacuums and wifi routers. The business seems to be passionately and aggressively embracing diversification.

The second important area of diversification is Xiaomi’s internet services. With revenues of $830 million, a year-on-year increase of 38.6%, the division accounts for 11.6% of total revenues, up from 10.1% in Q4 2020 and 9.9% in Q3 2020. This division is slowly becoming more prominent but most importantly, this is recurring cash, the holy grail in the digital economy.

Xiaomi is another Chinese company which has been embraced by the international markets in recent years, a critical driver of revenue growth, but this progress might prove to be the source of great pain during the second period of 2020.

Will remote working trends endure beyond lockdown?

It is most likely anyone reading this article is doing so from the comfort of their own home, but the question is whether this has become the new norm is a digitally defined economy?

With many economies and sectors dependent on a fully functioning telecoms network and a healthy digital ecosystem, perhaps we should be wondering why the idea of remote working is not more common. Many companies would say they are forward-looking and innovative, but the vast majority were forced through a digital transformation programme by the COVID-19 pandemic, not their own choosing.

The issue with coerced evolution is that there is a temptation to return to the ways of old, heading back to stodgy offices as the unambitious, unimaginative and uninspiring crave the familiarity of the known. Managers might say ‘teams work better when we’re together’ or ‘we’re an industry where it doesn’t work’, but this is probably a cover. The fact that many businesses still function during lockdown shows this is not true.

The office will never become extinct and face-to-face meetings will always be a requirement, but not every day; such resistance is simply an admission of inability to adapt to a changing economy or evolving society. Said managers would probably have fit in very well at Blockbusters when Reed Hastings pitched Netflix.

There are of course some jobs where working from home is an impossibility, but the fact that the economy

Today’s working practice is an extreme. But one would hope organisations at least take some of today’s mobility and incorporate into tomorrow’s operations. Some will revert to the analogue era, convinced that ‘hot desking’ is progress, but hopefully the majority will evolve and learn from this period of rapid transformation.

Of course, what is worth noting is that some serious changes will have to be made to ensure operations are in a healthy and sustainable position. Some companies might be managing the strain of remote working well today, but who knows which straw might be the fatal one.

A recent survey from Cato Networks suggested 55% of respondents experienced an increase of 75%-100% in remote access usage, while 28% saw usage shoot up more than 200%. VPN’s might be the most common form of remote access technologies, but products are bought for a purpose; most will not be designed for the surge above normal requirements.

67% of the respondents to the survey said complaints had been lodged from remote users, where connection instability and slow application response are the leading problems. Cato suggests the VPN might be a choke point in operations as it uses public internet to backhaul traffic to a datacentre or up to the cloud. In short, there will have to be a rethink on how money is spent and on what.

“…on the front-end you’d be looking at redundant VPN servers, ideally in each region where remote users operate,” said Dave Greenfield, Technology Evangelist at Cato Networks.

“For security, you’ll need antimalware and URL filtering. For the backend, you’ll need to connect and secure your cloud applications and resources. This says nothing about any of the management or troubleshooting tools that might be needed to support remote users.”

This is a disruption to business operations, and whenever there is a disruption, there are those who prefer the quieter life of the status quo. Every organisation has individuals who would rather this stay the same and this is the risk today; how many organisations will return to the pre-COVID-19 way of working, rendering these enforced digital transformation projects temporary.

Wind River, a software provider for connected systems and another company hoping to benefit from the pandemic transformation, is suggesting COVID-19 has caused 90% of enterprises to undergo some change in business processes, with 90% of respondents suggesting there has been an impact on being able to meet customer demands. Again, this might force companies back to old ways as some people simply don’t like challenges.

Interestingly enough, the Wind River research also suggests that IT spend on cloud-based application development has and will increase by 35% because of the coronavirus-enforced periods of lockdown. This increases to 62% in China. This shift to cloud-based technologies and processes should theoretically enable mobility in the work and flexibility in working practises.

Ultimately, the issue with some of these survey’s is that decision makers are the respondents, many of whom will say the right things because they believe they are the right things to say. This does not mean they are empowered to make changes or even have the staying power to see through any form of evolution. Sometimes it is best to ask the foot soldiers, those who fight in the trenches each day, those who are slightly more immune to the politics of business and may well give a more straight forward answer.

When asking Telecoms.com readers whether they thought the flexible and remote working conditions would stay, the results are quite interesting.

  • 50% said they would have to check into the office once or twice a week but could work from home
  • 33% believed they would be given complete freedom to work as they please
  • 6% stated they would have to go into the office to do their job properly
  • 6% thought the management team is not convinced by the idea of working from home and the company would revert to old business practices
  • And the final 5% said they would have to go into the office, but others in the company would be allowed to work from home

Of course, the adaptability of employees and employers is one on element of the equation, there will have to be the communications infrastructure in place.

What will be encouraging for all involved is the resilience of networks as internet traffic surges. These networks have not been designed with the current working dynamic in mind, but performance has been maintained.

According to data from Netscout, internet traffic jumped between 25-35% on home broadband networks from mid-March, when most lockdown protocols were being enforced. What is worth noting is this is a global average, some markets have experienced much higher peaks, for example Italy and the UK. But most importantly, networks have not failed because of the increased strain.

Interestingly enough, speaking at a Time Higher Education conference this week, Muhammad Imran, a Professor of Communication Systems at the University of Glasgow, suggested the work from home trends could be aided by the embracement of smart cities initiatives.

The ‘Accessible City’ is an idea which can help people work remotely. Imran has questioned why people should have to move to work in some jobs, a factor which could lead to an offer falling through or being turned down. Not everyone can move for a job, and for some low-income families it could be a barrier to entry.

Remote and flexible working is not only an opportunity to increase employee welfare, but it could also democratize some careers, breaking down social barriers and opening up opportunities for those who would have previously been overlooked.

Another element to consider is whether people are actually better at their jobs when they work from home.

Research from Harvard Business School suggested a 4.4% increase in output from those who have been empowered to work from home, while software company Prodoscore has said productivity could go up by as much as 44%. Numerous research papers have pointed to remote working being a plus to employers, as well as a benefit to employees.

Despite this research, which has been around for years, most executives have resisted the temptation to evolve working practices, leaving the idea of remote and flexible working to be cultivated by others, most of the time digitally native organisations. Some companies, and people, are stuck in their ways and they will not be as attractive to potential employees as others.

Some will embrace the coerced digital transformation, and some might revert back the ways of old. It will be interesting to see which business leaders are stuck in a previous generation.


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Lenovo earnings reveal the damage COVID-19 can inflict

With its main smartphone manufacturing sites situated in Wuhan, Lenovo has been hit hard by COVID-19, spoiling what would have otherwise been a very productive year.

Group revenues for Lenovo were down 1% to $50.7 billion, though it should be noted that revenues were down 10% year-on-year for the final three months, the period impacted by COVID-19. Across the first three quarters of 2019/20, the business was on the up as you can see below.

Financial performance of Lenovo 2019/20 (US Dollar ($), thousands)
Period Revenue Year-on-year Profit Year-on-year
Q4 10,579 (10%) 1,861 (2%)
Q3 14,103 0.5% 2,265 10.5%
Q2 13,522 1% 2,183 22%
Q1 12,512 5% 2,048 26%

Source: Lenovo Investor Relations

With the negatives of the final three months, growth figures were less than attractive, but without the impact of COVID-19 it has been a successful 12-month period.

“Amid one of the most significant periods of global change and transformation we have ever seen, Lenovo significantly transformed its business over the past year,” said Yang Yuanqing, Lenovo CEO.

“I am also unbelievably proud of how we continue to respond to the global pandemic, as both a business and a corporate citizen. While the world continues to face uncertain times, I’m confident Lenovo will leverage its operational excellence and global footprint to continue implementing our intelligent transformation strategy and fully grasp the opportunities our ‘new norm’ provides us.”

Many companies have complained about supply chain issues and disruption to manufacturing operations during this period, but few faced the same complications as Lenovo.

2019/20 had been targeted as a breakthrough year for Lenovo in the mobile segment. During the third quarter results, Lenovo’s mobile business unit boasted of five consecutive period of profitability growth, as well as outperforming the LATAM market on smartphone shipments by 19 points. LATAM is an area Lenovo, through the Motorola brand, has been very successful.

The final quarter put an end to this successful streak as Wuhan, the starting point of the COVID-19 pandemic, is home to Lenovo’s smartphone manufacturing facilities. This was the most heavily impacted segment of the Lenovo business, however its data centre business also declined on softer demand, however PC’s outperformed the market, IOT grew significantly and smart infrastructure grew 37% year-on-year as Network Function Virtualization started to generate revenue.


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IoT and Network Sunsets: A 4G/5G Planning Framework

Internet of Things (IoT) projects are often part of enterprise digital transformation initiative. Technology convergence and the rapid pace of change of communications are making the choice of connectivity a critical decision for IoT solutions. Compounding this is uncertainty around low cost 2G/3G network longevity and confusion about 4G and 5G options.

This paper examines the cellular connectivity options available today and identifies planned network closures, as well as the issues associated with regional decisions to either expedite or extend network closures. Additionally, it explores the challenges that need to be considered and provides a framework to assess IoT projects to make the optimum choice for connectivity options.