How Many Billion IoT Devices by 2020?

We have counted ~25 billion devices attached to our global ICT infrastructure. Many of these are Internet-of-Things (IoT) devices. IoT has all the Green ICT issues of any tech segment. How many IoT devices will we see deployed in the next coming years? It is instructive to see how forecasts have been becoming more conservative.

The latest forecast is from GSMA Intelligencei n June 2018, which projects "...over 25 billion in 2025." This is consistent with Gartner's 2017 estimate of 20 billion by 2020.

We have seen a decline in 2020 estimates from 50 billion to 20 billion over the past five years. This is good reminder to be skeptical about over-enthusiasm early in a technology's lifecycle.

2017 Post

We had found Gartner's 2014 estimate of 26 Billion IoT devices by 2020 more credible than other estimates ranging up to 50 Billion (see below). Gartner revised its estimate downward in early 2017 to 20 Billion.

Gartner also forecasted 2017 would end with more IoT devices deployed - 8.3 Billion - than there are people on the planet. We'll keep an eye on this and other forecasts when new data is released in early 2018.

2014 Post

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."

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