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Disposable IoT ready to open new opportunities

Mar 13, 20184 mins
Internet of Things

Discovering how disposable or single-use IoT tags are opening new opportunities and bringing smart wireless connectivity to everyday items, at an affordable price point.

The Internet of Things (IoT) has transformed how industries operate and how people interact with one another. We have seen an impressive array of new IoT deployments from an explosion of smart city applications across the U.S., to sensors implanted in the horns of critically-endangered rhinos in Africa. The evolution of IoT has connected devices at record speed and provided useful business intelligence to solve complex, real-world problems.

IoT devices outnumbered the world’s population for the first time this year. In a recent report, worldwide spending for IoT in 2017 is estimated to have grown 16.7% reaching $800 billion with an expected total of $1.4 trillion per year by 2021. The proliferation of IoT devices can be attributed to the fact that it is now much cheaper and easier to gather information from sensors.

Technological advancements in end-devices produced low-power transceivers and simple provisioning mechanisms. Long-range and unlicensed spectrums do not require the infrastructure or costs associated with cellular networks and have been deployed around the globe. These recent developments have significantly reduced the total cost of ownership (TCO) of LPWANs and lowered the barrier for entry and allowed industries like manufacturing, smart grid, agriculture, freight monitoring and healthcare to achieve the promised benefits of IoT.

What’s next? Disposable IoT

It is expected that the consumer segment is the largest user of connected “things” representing 63 percent of the overall number of applications in use. Consumers enjoy enhanced security monitoring capabilities, efficient smart appliances, increased health insights, and the ability to automate routine tasks. Connecting large-scale items like cars or homes has proven to be rewarding, but what if we could bring the advantages of IoT to smaller, everyday items?

This could easily be accomplished if we are able to connect things so inexpensively that they could be thrown away after using them. As electronic devices and hardware continue to get smaller and smaller, a new type of integrated technology is emerging. A future trend in IoT is making it disposable or single use – adding smart wireless connectivity to everyday items at an affordable price point.

Up until now, radio-frequency identification (RFID) chips have been used to track individual items. They are embedded within items and can transmit identifying information. Now, users want extended capabilities that allow for real-time data and asset management without a dedicated infrastructure. The technology would be a very small, ultra-thin contained device that can be attached to a cardboard box or an envelope that can be closely tracked, until it is opened. Single-use technology that is expected to be a game changer for the IoT industry.

New spectrum of single-use IoT applications

A single-use IoT tag represents a tipping point in the evolution of IoT by allowing long-range, low-power and low-cost connectivity to virtually any item. This technology can be used to add intelligence to new types of IoT applications, requiring real-time reliable feedback including logistics/shipping tracking solutions, healthcare and pharmaceutical use cases, and general-purpose compliance applications.

For instance, logistics companies could track not only when a package is delivered but when it is opened. Food kit companies required to meet food safety regulations could receive notifications when their deliveries have been opened. IoT tags could be embedded on shipping boxes to track location in real-time. The opportunities are endless.

Evolution of IoT

The concept of disposable IoT is in its infancy yet we are starting to see innovation in this area from large industries. The US Marine Corps has started testing single-use drones made of cardboard and inexpensive motors to deliver supply deliveries to combat troops. Chaotic Moon has created a prototype for a temporary bio-wearable “tattoo” that can track and report medial information such as heart rate, body temperature, and stress levels.

Even software applications are becoming disposable. Some software applications are developed to address a specific situation at a particular time. We now see platforms designed for tradeshows or festivities that are only used solely for an event then disappear.

As a society, we appreciate the convenience and accessibility of disposable items. Recall when disposable cameras entered the market in the 1980’s? They extended the availability of photography by providing an inexpensive and efficient way for people to take pictures that was previously limited to owners of expensive, professional cameras.

In a similar fashion, the benefits of IoT will soon be experienced by a much broader audience than the more costly and complex use cases of today. With the advent of disposable IoT, the IoT-ification and connection of existing products and services will only continue to grow.


Vivek Mohan is Director of Wireless Products for Semtech's Wireless and Sensing Product Group. Semtech's LoRa (long range) and ISM products provide the underlying wireless technology to achieve the low power wide area sensor networks in various environments.

Vivek is responsible for product management of Semtech's wireless IoT (Internet of Things) solutions. Vivek is also working with Semtech's LoRa alliance ecosystem partners and customers on the open Long Range Wide Area Network (LoRaWAN) protocol, developing end-to-end solutions for different vertical markets and enabling the global Low Power Wide Area Network (LPWAN) IoT market.

The opinions expressed in this blog are those of Vivek Mohan and do not necessarily represent those of IDG Communications, Inc., its parent, subsidiary or affiliated companies.