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China’s rapidly growing IoT market driving smart cities and industrial automation, becoming a global leader

The Fourth Industrial Revolution describes a dramatic step change in all of our lives. The confluence of high internet speeds, big data, the Internet of Things (IoT), analytics and artificial intelligence (AI) will fundamentally alter the way we live and work, intelligently connecting virtually every device, making our cities smarter and our lives easier and more productive


The increasing miniaturization of electronics has enabled miniaturized sensors,  processors and communications functionalities to be integrated into everyday objects, making them ‘‘smart’’ , such as smart watches, fitness monitoring products, food items, home appliances, plant control systems, equipment monitoring and maintenance sensors and industrial robots. By means of wireless and wired connections, they are able to interact and cooperate with each other to create new applications/services in order to reach common goals.


IoT is transforming a wide range of civilian activities by improving their productivity, efficiency, and profitability. The potential applications range from management of power and water resources; effective monitoring and coordination of manufacturing, supply chains and transportation systems; monitoring the performance of jet engines, and improved patient monitoring and disease diagnosis.


China is providing broader push to gain a lead in the race toward the era of IoT, with the global market value of such subsystems-in equipment and internet-connected things-projected to surpass $100 billion in 2018, according to Luo Wen, vice-minister of the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology, the top industry regulator in China. “Developing the internet of things is a strategic move to nurture a new momentum in China’s economy,” Luo told the 2017 World Internet of Things Wuxi Summit.


China has made strides in building the IoT’s infrastructure, commercial applications and technology advancements such as the narrow-band IoT, a radio technology which can connect billions of devices in a smarter way than WiFi and Bluetooth. Favorable government policies and fierce market competition inside the world’s largest manufacturing powerhouse of electronics have already placed China in the driver’s seat in IoT adoption, according to Charlie Dai, principal analyst at consultancy Forrester.


The thrust in IOT shall also enable PLA to leverage such technologies in their  operations and achieve cost efficiency and battlespace advantages. Analogous to IoT, Military internet of things (MIOT) comprising multitude of platforms, ranging from ships to aircraft to ground vehicles to weapon systems, is expected to be developed. MIoT offers high potential for the military to achieve significant efficiencies, improve safety and delivery of services, and produce major cost savings.


Commanders make decisions based on real-time analysis generated by integrating Sensors data from unmanned sensors and reports from the field. These commanders shall benefit from a wide range of information supplied by sensors and cameras mounted on the ground, and manned or unmanned vehicles or soldiers.


Development of IOT is part of national development strategy

In May 2015, the government outlined the Made in China 2025 strategy prioritising sectors boosting manufacturing innovation, including the IoT, smart appliances and high-end consumer electronics. Under the plan, these sectors will benefit from state funding in excess of 10 billion yuan (US$1.5 billion), according to the Economic Information Daily, which is run by Xinhua. The strategy sets out a goal to transform China from “a manufacturing big house” to “a manufacturing super house” in the next 10 year


In China, the development of the Internet of Things (IoT) has been upgraded to a national development strategy. As clearly stated in the 13th Five-Year Plan (FYP), the country will actively move forward with the development of cloud computing and IoT, advance the layout of IoT sensing facilities, and propel open-loop applications of IoT. Moreover, during the 13th FYP period, the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology of the People’s Republic of China will give top priority to IoT’s applications in key areas such as smart city, build a platform for city-level IoT access management and data aggregation, promote a unified access to sensing facilities, and enhance centralized management and data sharing.


The demand of IoT market will be fully driven by the vigorous development of IoT application demonstration projects, the further progress made by national strategies including the Made in China 2025 initiative and the Internet Plus action plan, as well as the technologies and markets concerning cloud computing and big data. In the coming three years, China’s IoT will be widely applied to smart grid, smart home, digital city, smart healthcare, automobile sensor and other fields. With the expected gross output of RMB 3 trillion, IoT will grow into an important impetus to revolution of industries. Ministry of Industry and Information Technology unveiled a plan earlier this year to boost development of IoT, with the goal of enabling more than 1.7 billion public machine-to-machine connections by 2020. There were 100 million connections in 2015, accounting for 31 percent of all global connections, official data show.


The Chinese government is also promoting the development of the IoT in industrial control, financial services, healthcare and other major sectors of the economy, as well as manufacturing. Government officials are strategically providing funding to municipalities and economic development zones as part of official “smart city” pilot projects, which are looking to use IoT applications to address major urban issues, such as congestion and pollution


At the same time, China is also producing start-ups, such as landing.ai (founded by Baidu’s former chief AI scientist Andrew Ng), K2Data, and RootCloud, that could play a key role in the development of the Industrial Internet. The city of Wuxi, a hot spot for the IoT industry in China, runs an annual 10 million yuan (US$1.5 million) competition for IoT innovations – a form of crowdsourcing that can drive innovation.

Rapid IoT growth in China

China is the world’s largest Internet of Things (IoT) market with 64% of the 1.5 billion global cellular connections, including the rapidly growing mobile IoT licensed low-power wide-area network (LPWAN) technologies. The data is from the intelligence report in the fourth quarter of 2019 of GSMA, the industry association of more than 750 operators with nearly 400 companies in the broader mobile ecosystem globally. “By connecting the estimated 960 million devices via cellular networks, the country is realizing the value of the IoT and transforming society through mass market deployments of smart home, smart industry and smart city solutions,” the GSMA said in a news release.


Alex Sinclair, Chief Technology Officer, GSMA, said China’s lead in mass deployment of innovative and transformative IoT based solutions based on mobile IoT technology, is backed by a proactive government support. “These new technologies are being implemented across multiple different vertical sectors fundamentally altering the way we live and work, delivering real-time information and making our cities smarter and our lives easier and more productive,” he added.


The China IoT market is expected to grow from USD 11.00 Billion in 2015 to USD 121.45 Billion by 2022, at a CAGR of 41.1% between 2016 and 2022. The major driving factors for the growth of the market are the growing demand for smartphones and other connecting devices, increasing internet penetration, rising trends of industrial automation, and mainstream adoption of cloud computing. According to estimates by relevant institutions, China’s digital economy has grown at an average annual rate of 20% in the past three years. In terms of total volume, China’s digital economy reached 27.2 trillion yuan in 2017, up more than 20.3% YoY, accounting for 32.9% of GDP, up 2.6 percentage points YoY.  The rise of digital economy and industrial transformation and upgrading bring new opportunities for the development of China’s Internet of things industry.


China is a leading producer of all kinds of goods, including much of the world’s electronics. In fact, Greater China makes most of the sensors, microchips, and other components that are the fabric of the IoT. By 2020, there will be 200 billion IoT connected components and devices globally, of which 95 percent will be manufactured in China, according to Axa Insurance. China’s mobile operators will play a fundamental role in all of these developments by providing secure, reliable and intelligent connectivity to businesses and enterprises across the country.


The China IoT ecosystem comprises major hardware providers such as Xiaomi Inc. (China), Qualcomm Incorporated (U.S.), MediaTek Inc. (Taiwan), and Huawei Investment & Holding Co., Ltd. (China), network providers such as China Mobile Limited (Hong Kong), China Unicom (Hong Kong) Ltd. (Hong Kong), and China Telecom Corporation Limited (Beijing); and software providers such as International Business Machines (IBM) Corporation (U.S.), Microsoft Corporation (U.S.), and Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. (China). All these companies have their own R&D facilities and extensive sales offices and distribution channels. The products of these companies can be used across industries


China will record 860 million mobile IoT connections in 2025, associated with various industry vertical applications including smart metering, connected bikes and connected agriculture. GSMA Intelligence also estimates that there will be 13.8 billion industrial IoT connections by 2025 with 6.3 billion of these being in Asia Pacific and China accounting for 65% of these. These new networks can support IoT solutions across a wide variety of applications, such as industrial asset tracking, safety monitoring or water and gas metering, providing extensive coverage in both cities and remote rural locations.


China Telecom extends narrow band IoT network across home market

Mobile IoT is gaining momentum worldwide. To date, 29 mobile operators have launched 53 Mobile IoT networks using either Narrowband IoT (NB-IoT) or LTE-M technologies, both of which have been standardised by 3GPP. Mobile IoT technology has been widely deployed in cities in Greater China. The expanding Mobile IoT ecosystem also includes 36 IoT Labs and more than 1,000 organisations in the GSMA’s Mobile IoT Innovators Commun


NB-IoT, a narrowband radio technology designed for the internet of things (IoT), has been developed to enable a wide range of low-power devices and services to be connected using cellular telecommunications bands on the Wide Area Network (WAN). Compared to Bluetooth and Wi-Fi technology, NB-IoT, having the advantages of low cost, wide coverage, long battery life and enabling a large amount of connected devices, is believed to have great potential in application.


Low power WAN (LPWAN) is a fast growing wireless network for connected devices. LoRa and Sigfox and NB-IoT (narrow band IoT) are the LPWAN technologies that hit the internet-of-things (IoT) market. The former two technologies use an unlicensed spectrum whereas NB-IoT operates in a licensed spectrum. NB-IoT supports higher bandwidth applications and faster two-way communication speed than unlicensed spectrum technologies. NB-IoT is around 250kbps downlink whereas Sigfox transmits 8 bytes per message. Faster speed supports applications that rely on timely data transmission and firmware update over the air (FOTA).


On the deployment side, NB-IoT uses existing cellular networks, minimizing the need to deploy additional infrastructure. NB-IoT leverages existing GSM or LTE cellular networks with software upgrades to existing base stations. “This feature of NB-IoT as a software upgrade eases deployment over competition technologies like Sigfox ad LoRa,” said Hugh Ujhazy, associate vice president and IoT practice lead for Asia Pacific (excluding Japan) at IDC noted. The world’s largest NB-IoT will be completed by China Telecom, at the end of June, to achieve the full web commercial use of the end-to-end NB-IoT. China Mobile, having started outfield test on NB-IoT in Shanghai, Guangzhou, Hangzhou and Fuzhou, is set to a large-scale outfield test validation later and commercialize NB-IoT by 2018.


Li Zhenya, an analyst of Zhongtai Securities, said the launch of NB-IoT sets a unified protocol standard for the transport layer and the involvement of operators increases the speed and scale of IoT, which can provide a better material basis for the development of the application layer in downstream. Rival China Mobile Communications Corp, the country’s largest telecom carrier by subscribers, is catching up. It unveiled the world’s smallest embedded SIM narrow band IoT module. The M5310, as the module is called, was independently developed by China Mobile. It is highly power-efficient and can save more than 30 percent of the space. NB-IoT promises mass connections, wide coverage and low power consumption. But LTE-M, based on LTE networks, does not require additional investment.


The Chinese operators are seeing plenty of topline growth from their IoT businesses, but they are still small. China Unicom says it collected 3 billion yuan (US$423 million), up 46% from 2019, from 190 million connections in 2019. China Telecom, which reports 157 million connections, says IoT revenue rose 21%.


By the end of 2019, the cumulative NB-IoT connections surpassed 95 million, representing a net addition of nearly 62 million over 2018, with over 90% of the growth split between China Mobile and China Telecom. Leveraging the end-to-end NB-IoT solution, from eSIM chip to cellular module, from connection management platform OneLink to cloud platform OneNet, China Mobile had caught up with China Telecom, the pioneer of NB-IoT services in China, respectively enabling more than 40 million connections.


Mobile IoT technologies, such as NB-IoT and LTE-M, will play a key role in the emerging 5G networks, in particular, the development of ‘massive IoT’. Massive IoT is one of three principle 5G use cases, alongside critical communications and enhanced broadband, which will enable smart cities, industrial automation and other applications involving large numbers of connected devices. Leading mobile operators, including AT&T, Deutsche Telekom, KDDI, Orange and Vodafone, are committed to deploying these networks as part of their future 5G massive IoT strategies


The China Smart Home Market is Predicted to Reach Nearly US$ 46 Billion by the Year 2026

China offers a lucrative market opportunity for the Smart home industry. Smart home is a system that allows home owner to control and monitor different devices in home including the heating, lighting, security, and entertainment, automatically and sometimes remotely via the Internet. In China, household penetration for smart home applications is estimated at around 8% in 2019. The favorable policies and the coming of Internet of Things laid solid foundation for smart home market in China. Furthermore, initiatives such as National New-type Urbanization Plan, China’s 12th five-year Development Plan, Smart Cities Projects and Made in China 2025 strategy, are likely to fuel the growth of China smart home market. By the end of 2011, half of China’s population was living in cities.


In 2019, urban population for China amounted to over 60%, creating enormous opportunity for smart home players. In addition to country-wide initiatives, large corporations in China, from technology giants to white goods manufacturers, are placing big bets on the Chinese smart home market. Several major Chinese giants like Baidu, Xiaomi, Alibaba, Haier and many others have already entered the market for smart home products.


Beijing also selected a host of cities to pilot the smart city projects, through which they established database and sensor networks to collect, store, and analyze information related to transportation, electricity, public safety and environmental factors. For example, in the city of Wuxi, a government-backed heartland for IoT adoption, the number of IoT-connected gadgets by the end of August had for the first time surpassed that of mobile subscribers, said Li Qiang, Party secretary of the Communist Party of China Jiangsu provincial committee.


The growth of smart home market in China is attributed to factors such as significantly growing IoT market, government support, increasing urbanization & growing awareness for smart home technology, and increasing importance of home monitoring from remote locations. With the increasing demand of smart home devices, security and privacy breach is also increasing. The issues pertaining to privacy and security breach are restraining the growth of the smart home market.


In terms of Smart Home applications, Smart Appliances captured maximum share of the China smart home market. Smart Appliances are equipped with different sensors and designed with connectivity features that can connect to handheld devices such as smartphones and tablets as well as other household appliances.


Control and Connectivity is the second largest application segment of the China smart home market, followed by Security applications at the third spot. Control and Connectivity is at the heart of smart home solutions, enabling everything from smart appliances to lighting, from temperature control to security. Home Entertainment market captured nearly 15% share of the market in 2019, while the Energy Management application captured least share of the China smart home market.


On the basis of Smart Home volume, Control and Connectivity segment captured highest share of the China Smart Home active households in 2019, being followed by Home Entertainment segment. The growth of home automation and rapid developments in wireless smart technology has led to an explosion in the range of smart home entertainment devices, thus driving the market for smart home. Comfort and Lighting and Smart Appliances segment accounted for third and fourth highest share of the China Smart Home active households respectively in 2019.


While, Security application captured least share of the Smart Home active households in 2019. With improvement in network infrastructure, broadband and internet penetration has increased, and consumers are increasingly opting for wireless and technologically advanced products to ensure more security for their families. As the trend towards home automation and smart homes grows, the market will witness significant growth.


Water meters

Mobile IoT connectivity provides a less expensive and less complex means of connecting utility meters than earlier technologies. By extending the battery life of smart meters, Mobile IoT connectivity can enable a utility to reduce maintenance significantly: Lengthening the service cycle from 2-3 years to 10-15 years would dramatically improve the utility’s return on investment. As utility meters tend to communicate comparatively small payloads (100s of bytes, at maximum) of data, low bandwidth, power-efficient network technologies are particularly well suited to this applicatio


Li Shengfei, general manager of China Telecom’s Shenzhen branch, said the company delivered the world’s first commercial narrow band IoT-based Smart Water metering project in March by partnering with Huawei and Shenzhen Water, the local water utility provider. Shenzhen Water’s  upgraded water management system is running on China Telecom network and Huawei’s cloud-based IoT connection management platform. The water meters and flow meters in the system are embedded with Huawei chipset and modules.


About 1,200 narrow band IoT-enabled smart water meters have been deployed for Southern Pearl Garden and other residential areas in the Yantian District of Shenzhen. With a chipset inside, these smart water meters can intelligently read and upload data to Shenzhen Water’s online platform. “Manual water reading was not efficient and is higher in cost. Water leakage monitoring was also not effective,” said Zhou Liming (pictured, left), vice president of Shenzhen Water. The project can also help water utility providers analyze water usage patterns of different consumer groups to build up or reconstruct the water pipe network in a more reasonable arrangement for convenient and reliable consumer water services.


Smart street lighting

Currently, many cities in China control their street lamps in groups, resulting in higher power consumption and inability in reporting the status of each lamp. Smart street lighting controls street lamps individually to reduce power consumption and detect faults easier. A NB-IoT smart lighting pilot is running in Weifang city in Shangdong by LED street lighting supplier Advanced Optronic Devices Company (AOD) and China Unicom.


According to AOD, NB-IoT smart street lighting can get lighting status in real time, remotely control each individual lamp, configure lighting timers, upgrade software and troubleshoot. As a result, power consumption and maintenance cost is reduced by 24% and 50% respectively. China Unicom plans to expand the pilot to cover the total 40,000 street lamps in Weifang.


Smart parking

Smart parking player China TransInfo Technology worked with China Unicom to develop an NB-IoT-based smart parking project in Shanghai. The drivers in Shanghai, can use an app to find an empty space in a parking lot, navigate to the location and pay the bill with a smartphone. Moreover, the app can calculate the probability of a space becoming empty by using information from the likes of parking ticket machines. “Smart parking is a requirement of government, car owners and parking operators,” said Chen Rujun (pictured, right), business manager at China TransInfo. “NB-IoT-based parking provides convenient installation and wide coverage, easier maintenance and lower power consumption,” he noted.


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