Starting with more humble killer applications such as meter reading in buildings, WSN will grow rapidly from $0.58 billion in 2012 to $2.4 billion in 2022 according to IDTechEx research. These figures refer to WSN defined as wireless mesh networks, ie self-healing and self-organising. The market for wireless sensor systems in general is far larger and some proposed standards apply to both.
What's next after smart meters
Like most RF/wireless sensor projects, the large and generally profitable orders for suppliers come from government mandates, which do not always seek a rapid ROI but look for long term efficiency, compliance, safety etc. For WSN, that opportunity was for smart meters, with utility companies around the world ordered to install them. The idea was to jump start adoption of wireless sensors in the home - things talking to things. But it has not panned out that way yet. The utility companies generally go as far as the utility box but not inside devices in the house. Consumer electronics and appliance companies are intensely cost conscious and adding a wireless capability with a BOM of $5 is a problem. The trend IDTechEx sees from wireless developers to exploit smart meter infrastructure is to look at service companies for TV and Cable to add wireless capability to devices paid on a subscription basis by consumers over time rather than a capital upfront cost.
However, like earlier generation non mesh sensors such as active RFID and real time locating systems (RTLS), the roll-out of WSN is profusely occurring using relatively small numbers of sensor nodes but offering a complete solution (i.e. relevant software platform) where the entire solution has demonstrated strong ROI fixing a problem. That includes sensing conditions or locating items in warehousing, hospitals, industrial processes, manufacturing and other environments. The payback here is typically twelve months or less and the roll-out occurs from site to site in "closed loop" applications in a cookie-cutter approach.
WSN and RTLS case studies
At the annual WSN & RTLS Europe 2012 event in Berlin, May 15-16, several major end users will discuss case studies of successful adoption of WSN and RTLS and where the industry is headed. For example, integrator ABB will discuss modular solutions for the process industries and EADS and TRW Conekt cover application case studies. The event is part of the Energy Harvesting & Storage Europe conference and tradeshow, because energy harvesters are an enabler of WSN, helping overcome lifetime limitations of conventional primary batteries. Solutions provider Cubic Global Tracking Solutions discuss "The Internet of Things" - addressing "Anytime, anywhere, communications opportunities with WSN" and alternatives to mobile WiFi offload. E-Senza, EnOcean, Nanotron Technologies and others consider application examples where wireless sensors improve the energy efficiency in buildings. Microsemi address wireless sensors in the healthcare industry. CEA LETI and Millenial Net will give candid appraisal of the sweet spot for wireless sensors today and in the future.
Latest WSN technology progress
New lower power devices also extend the lifetime and therefore ROI of WSN. Tyndall National Institute, Microchip, Energy Micro and many others will talk of breakthrough developments with low power electronics relevant to wireless sensors. The event is your key annual show that addresses the applicational drivers, technology and standards in this vibrant sector. For more information, and to book at the best early-bird rates, see http://www.idtechex.com/energy-harvesting-europe/wsn.asp.
For more information, the new IDTechEx report "Wireless Sensor Networks 2012-2022" www.IDTechEx.com/wsn covers case studies, the market sizing by application and profiles of hardware and system providers.