The next generation of mobile networks is almost upon us. In trials conducted by Qualcomm, 5G delivered speeds of up to 490 Mbps – quite the jump on the 56 Mbps that 4G users can typically expect at present.
The evolution of mobile phone networks up until this point has allowed for a plethora of new capabilities. When cell phones were introduced, they were essentially voice-only. Over the years, though, we’ve witnessed their trajectory from text messaging and modest mobile surfing to phones becoming multimedia powerhouses.
While every iteration of mobile network technology has led to new possibilities, 5G is also expected to enter in the dawn of a new era in which will we be able to communicate not only with each other, but also our ‘things’.
Why 5G is Central to the Internet of Things
Machina Research estimates that there will be 10 million Internet of Things (IoT) connections by the year 2024. It also predicts that three-quarters of these connected things will be in the connected car market.
“There will be 10 million Internet of Things connections by the year 2024… three-quarters of [which] will be in the connected car market.”
While there may have been only modest speed increases in testing to date, the kind of speeds required to give these self-driving vehicles human-like reflexes can only be delivered through 5G.
This potential is already being realised. As Forbes reported, Qualcomm and Intel are working on technology that would allow for large volumes of data to be processed while on the move, allowing driverless vehicles to make complicated decisions on the road.
It’s not only our cars that will change with the coming of 5G, but our cities too. With the advent of smart cities, an entire metropolis of connected devices would be able to talk to each other. That means components such as gateways, aggregators, meters and sensors working in conjunction in real time.
Binary District Journal spoke to Danny Tseng, technical marketer for Qualcomm’s 5G project, who underscored the importance of 5G for IoT. “5G will help to realise the vision of connecting virtually everything around us,” Tseng says. “Unlike prior mobile technology generations, it’s designed to not only interconnect people, but also interconnect and control machines, objects and devices. The new, flexible 5G air interface will scale efficiently for all kinds of applications – from autonomous vehicles down to ultra-low-cost sensors.”
Tseng told us that IoT products and services require both deep coverage and ‘years-long battery life’. He explained that 5G will be built on LTE IoT, which is part of the latest wave of LTE Advanced Pro innovations that support low-data-rate, latency-tolerant IoT applications.
“5G/LTE massive IoT would provide the scale to efficiently connect these low-complexity devices and be able to deliver multi-Gbps peak rates, ultra-low latency and massive capacity… to replace industrial ethernet links.”
Tseng also told us that 5G/LTE massive IoT would provide the scale to efficiently connect these low-complexity devices. It would, he says, be able to deliver multi-Gbps peak rates, ultra-low latency and massive capacity for the high-performance applications that require fast, low-latency and highly reliable communication needed for industrial IoT. In essence, it would replace industrial ethernet links.
How Far are we from the 5G Era?
Things are moving fast when it comes to 5G. As recently as October 2018, Verizon claimed to have turned on the first-ever 5G network in Sacramento, California. This network is built on Verizon’s own 5G TF network standard.
Tseng believes we can expect to see the first 5G devices and networks as soon as early 2019. “These first devices will include mobile hotspots, smartphones and other mobile form factor devices,” he says. “We’re currently in the final stages of the testing and development of the core 5G technologies.”
“We can expect to see the first 5G devices and networks as soon as early 2019.”
In fact, Qualcomm, along with its infrastructure vendors and global operators, is already conducting over-the-air (OTA) 5G NR (New Radio) calls on mobile form factor devices and is beginning to move these tests into the field.
The dawn of the 5G era for IoT will have a fundamental impact on how things are done. BDJ also spoke with Cody McLain, Executive Chairman of SupportNinja. “It opens the door to IoT devices for government and businesses alike,” McLain says.
“[5G] opens the door to IoT devices for government… [as it] will eliminate the need for a central hub, making it easier for governments, most of which use 2G, to expand the devices they utilise.”
“Every spectrum – whether that’s Z-Wave, Zigbee, Bluetooth or Wi-Fi – has its pros and cons, and most require a central hub to operate. But this will eliminate the need for a central hub, making it easier for governments, most of which use 2G, to expand the devices they utilise.”
Back to the Future
The IoT era is more than just a technological leap; it will also be an era in which the technology finally permeates down to the person on the street. This opens new possibilities not only for those who are tech-savvy, but also those who have never heard of this technology before.
Whether it’s a thermostat, smoke detector or something as mundane as a doorbell, domestic devices will also experience a fundamental change of character and be able to do so much more than they do today. In a decade from now, life as we know it may be unrecognisable.
McLain believes this will lead to what he calls the ‘democratisation of 5G’ and that it will allow everyone to finally experience the connectivity and possibilities that the IoT has to offer. No longer will the IoT be confined to the realm of so-called futurists; instead, it will filter down to the realm of the average person.
A recently released report by the GSMA, entitled Mobile IOT in the 5G Future, indicates that mobile IoT already delivers connectivity on a massive scale. It predicts that it will continue to do so in the 5G future, enabling key IoT applications such as smart metering to help reduce energy consumption, smart logistics to enhance distribution efficiency and smart environmental monitoring to reduce city pollution.
“[5G mobile IoT will enable] key IoT applications such as smart metering to help reduce energy consumption, smart logistics to enhance distribution efficiency and smart environmental monitoring to reduce city pollution.”
And now that the 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP) has already signed on the standard for 5G – that is 5G NR – there is a standalone specification in place for telephony and mobile internet.
Source: GSMA Report Mobile IoT in 5G Future
The Emergence of a New Ecosystem
Mobile operators are the mainstay of today’s wireless infrastructure. However, in the future, we will require an IoT infrastructure on top.
“For new services such as 5G NR Industrial IoT – for example, industrial ethernet replacement – standardisation is still in progress and deployment will start in 2021,” Tseng explains. “The biggest challenge is to have not only operators but the entire IoT ecosystem working together to make this happen.
“For new services such as 5G NR Industrial IoT… standardisation is still in progress and deployment will start in 2021.”
“We’re making good progress in 3GPP – the standards body responsible for designing the technologies that drive global cellular standards. 3GPP, in which mobile operators play a central role, has proven its ability to deliver 3G, 4G and now 5G specifications relying on the R&D, technology inventions, and collaboration of its individual members from across many industries and ecosystems.”
So what role do the mobile operators have to play today and in the future? According to Tseng, the key consideration is the time 5G networks will require to build up coverage. However, 5G massive IoT is building on top of the LTE IoT foundation and it can leverage existing or soon-to-be-launched LTE IoT networks.
We are Living on the Fringes of the Smart Era
As to the question of the impact 5G will have on IoT companies, McLain posits that, because existing IoT devices are using a mix of wireless products such as LoRaWAN, 4G, LTE, CAT-M, 4G LTE, NB-IoT, and SigFox in Wide Area Network (WAN), businesses won’t experience drastic change.
Nonetheless, there are clearly opportunities to be harnessed. “The most obvious,” says McLain, “are for companies that develop GPS-reliant anti-theft car-tracking products for auto-makers already leveraging the 4G-LTE-CAT-M, or 4G-LTE-NB-IoT cellular networks to relay data from the car to the driver’s smartphone.
“The best thing about this tech is that businesses can develop products that already work on current 4G networks and will only improve with the introduction of 5G.”
“The best thing about this tech is that businesses can develop products that already work on current 4G networks and will only improve with the introduction of 5G. In fact, for any business wondering how to take advantage of 5G before it gets here, I’d say that’s the best place to start!”
Whether tech companies, businesses or individuals, we are all living on the verge of the 5G and IoT era. What we’re seeing today is a mere glimpse of the smart era to come, the full impact of which is yet to be revealed.
The leap in speed between 4G and 5G will take some years to become fully apparent, but mobile internet will become unrecognisably powerful. And, with 4G already more reliable than some broadband connections, many expect that 5G could see the end of broadband as a household necessity. UK network provider Three believes that 5G will have the capacity to cope with a household’s data demands.
Other predictions include each home using 13 times as much mobile data as they do today, thanks to the influx of connected devices and the increased download speeds. When 5G becomes a standard feature for mobile contracts, it will be interesting to see how many homes decide that broadband is an unnecessary addition. Broadband providers have been wildly successful up until this point, but 5G and other improvements in mobile technology pose an existential threat.
Illustrations by Kseniya Forbender
To contact the editor responsible for this story:
Margarita Khartanovich at [email protected]