50 Billion Connected Devices by 2020?

We estimate that in 2014 that 19 billion devices were attached to our global ICT infrastructure. We recently saw an estimate of 50 billion for 2020. What would the path to 50 billion connected devices look like?

The Mobile and wireless communications Enablers for the Twenty-twenty (2020) Information Society (METIS) is EU research project that put forth the 50 billion estimate of "connected devices" in a March 2013 presentation.

Six Billion New Devices a Year

Business information provider IHS published device growth estimates in February 2014. "Worldwide production of connected equipment will amount to 6.18 billion units this year...Between 2015 and 2017, an estimated 19.42 billion new devices will flood the planet..."

Annual new unit production numbers alone don't define the growth of the installed base. We would need to know how many existing devices were permanently disconnected that same year. Let's try some back-of-envelope calculations to understand how this would all have to work.

An production average of 6 billion devices a year from 2014 through 2020 would yield 36 billion new devices. That is 55 billion total devices in 2020 when added to our base of 18 billion. A number of 50 billion would be credible only if 72% of the devices connected in 2013 were still connected by the end of 2020. That's unlikely, even with long life-cycles and high rates of reuse.

We could get there with higher rates of production, but IHS cautions that while 2014 will mark "....the largest increase for the market in four years...Production growth rates will then slow in the next few years..."

A March 2014 Gartner report offers a more credible forecast. "...the IoT [Internet of Things] will include 26 billion units installed by 2020, and by that time, IoT product and service suppliers will generate incremental revenue exceeding $300 billion, mostly in services." Gartner ties IoT growth to a major increase in data center bandwidth. "Existing data center WAN links are sized for the moderate-bandwidth requirements generated by human interactions with applications. IoT promises to dramatically change these patterns by transferring massive amounts of small message sensor data to the data center for processing, dramatically increasing inbound data center bandwidth requirements."

Is a Cow a Device?

The biggest hurdle in reconciling device numbers for varied sources is the definition of a 'device'. For example, we include in our 18 billion count the analog devices connected to broadcast infrastructures because broadcast is consistent with our definition of ICT. Could the definition of a "device" be an issue here?

It turns out we had previously reported a 50 billion estimate in a 2013 post about the IoT The source we cited there cited a Cisco IoT infographic. The inforgraphic talks about connected sensors embedded in, among other things, cows. Embedded sensors are outside the definitions of 'connected devices' used either by IHS or by us.

We will keep working on this topic, updating the post as new information comes in. I'll conclude for now with IHS's vision of how the device mix will be changing. "[Devices] expected to enjoy higher production numbers this year include video game consoles, media tablets, mobile handsets, liquid-crystal display televisions (LCD TVs), set-top boxes and mobile PCs. [Devices that] will suffer reduced production this year are digital still cameras, camcorders, desktop PCs, DVD players/records and portable media players."

More

Here is a helpful April 2013 comparison from Australia's Centre for Energy-Efficient Telecommunications (CEET):
"[The table below] shows typical power consumption values for a range of devices that may be used to access the Internet. Because this white paper focuses on wireless cloud services, it will use the power values for tablet and mobile phone. The other values are included for comparison with other common user equipment. With the growing popularity of tablets and their low power consumption, we estimate that, by 2015, typical consumer and enterprise users will access a wireless cloud service via a wireless connection (4G LTE or WiFi) rather than a wired connection. Further, growth trends indicate a dominant increase in traffic from smartphones (4G LTE) and tablets."

Device Watts
Tablet 2.5
Mobile phone (4G LTE) 3
Mid-range PC 70
Laptop 15
Netbook 11

Game consoles and Green ICT
Television & set-top boxes (STB) and Green ICT