Internet of Things (IoT), the network of physical devices, vehicles, home appliances, and other items embedded with electronics, software, sensors, actuators, and connectivity which enables these things to connect and exchange data, relies, obviously, on the internet. And the faster the connection, the better, right?
That’s the idea behind the concept that 5G networks and the accompanying connectivity speeds will transform the Internet of Things.
What is 5G?
The G in 5G stands for generation, and it indicates a level of wireless technology. 5G is the fifth generation of this technology, descending from and improving on 1G, 2G, 3G, 4G, etc. Not only do these different generations of wireless technology embody progressively faster internet speeds, but they also embody new encoding methods which make one generation incompatible with previous generations. According to an article by Sascha Segan in PCMag, “3G technologies, such as EVDO, HSPA, and UMTS, brought speeds from 200kbps to a few megabits per second. 4G technologies, such as WiMAX and LTE… are now scaling up to hundreds of megabits and even gigabit-level speeds.”
So what’s so great about 5G? The development of 5G is expected to bring faster speeds, lower latency, network support for massive increases in data traffic, and an expansion of cell sites. AT&T plans to launch its first 5G network zones in parts of several cities this year, including Houston, Jacksonville, Louisville, New Orleans, San Antonio, Atlanta, Charlotte, Dallas, Indianapolis, Oklahoma City, Raleigh, and Waco.
Speaking on the impending launch, Andre Fuetsch, AT&T’s Chief Technology Officer said, “We’re at the dawn of something new that will define the next decade and generation of connectivity. Future smart factories and retailers, self-driving cars, untethered virtual and augmented realities, and other yet to be discovered experiences will grow up on tomorrow’s 5G networks. Much like 4G introduced the world to the gig economy, mobile 5G will jumpstart the next wave of unforeseen innovation.”
Verizon plans to launch 5G networks for homes this year, and T-Mobile and Sprint plan 5G networks launch for mobile early next year. According to Ericsson’s annual Mobility Report, 5G speeds will be ten times faster than 4G LTE.
Asha Keddy, general manager of mobile standards for advance tech at Intel, “describes 5G as the first network designed to be scalable, versatile, and energy smart for the hyper-connected internet of everything world.” She told IntelIQ’s editor-at-large, “These next-generation networks and standards will need to solve a more complex challenge of combining communications and computing together so intelligence is at your fingertips and available to the machines that make up the internet of things.”
How will 5G actually work?
According to Segan:
“Like other cellular networks, 5G networks use a system of cell sites that divide their territory into sectors and send encoded data through radio waves. Each cell site must be connected to a network backbone, whether through a wired or wireless backhaul connection.”
“5G networks will use a type of encoding called OFDM, which is similar to the encoding that 4G LTE uses. The air interface will be designed for much lower latency and greater flexibility than LTE, though.”
“The standard will work all the way from low frequencies to high, but it gets the most benefit over 4G at higher frequencies. 5G may also transmit data over the unlicensed frequencies currently used for Wi-Fi, without conflicting with existing Wi-Fi networks. That’s similar to a technology that all the carriers except Sprint are currently launching, called LAA.”
5G networks will most likely be produced through networks of small cells—typically a single house or a single building, instead of huge cell towers encompassing a wide area. The idea is that many smaller cells can handle more data than a few larger cells. On top of that, if each home (or smart home) is covered by its own cell, the connectivity between devices in that home will be super-fast, regardless of other internet networks the home is connected to.
What does this mean for IoT deployments?
5G networks are routinely predicted to benefit the Internet of Things in a massive way. Hyper-aware devices in the home and in the office will be able to communicate with each other at lightning speed, providing instant response mechanism and real-time interaction with humans and other automated systems.
Writing in NetworkWorld, Vikrant Gandhi states, “5G represents a fundamental shift in communication network architectures. It promises to accelerate future revenue generation through innovative services facilitated via 5G-enabled devices, including smartphones, tablets, laptops, and Internet-of-Things (IoT). 5G deployments are envisioned as a complex amalgamation of next-generation technological enhancements to telecommunication networks, which will help 5G become the catalyst for next-generation IoT services.”
He goes on to state that the innovations provided in the IoT space by 5G networks include:
- Advanced modulation schemes for wireless access
- Network slicing capabilities
- Automated network application lifecycle management
- Software-defined networking and network function virtualization
- Support for cloud-optimized distributed network applications
What do these innovations look like for different IoT industries?
5G-IoT innovations in the automotive industry will allow vehicles to be coupled with augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) systems. Cars will be able to communicate with other cars, with pedestrians, with buildings and infrastructure along the roadway, and, of course, with the driver in ever more integrated ways.
5G-IoT innovations in the healthcare industry will provide for real-time communication of medical data hospital-to-hospital, doctor-to-hospital, patient-to-hospital, and hospital-to-next-of-kin. Use cases are expected to include the live transmission of high-definition surgery videos that can be remotely monitored so that medical teams can work together and exchange expertise.
5G-IoT innovations in the industrial industry will improve network security and network architecture between manufacturers, suppliers, and warehouses. Industrial facilities are expected to be among the major users of private 5G networks.
5G-IoT innovations in the telecommunications industry will likely include the replacing of cable and fiber-optic networks with wireless ones, especially over localized areas. This will result in reduced costs due to less wire needing to be laid in homes and businesses. Shopping, gaming, and entertainment will be revolutionized by the implementation of Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR), which will be made much easier with 5G.
But everyone isn’t sold on 5G being the savior of the Internet of Things.
Zach Supalla, the founder and CEO of Particle, an Internet of Things startup, writes, “While 5G networks may fundamentally transform mobile cellular networks, they are still in early deployment stages despite the just-around-the-corner narrative that is being spread.” He goes on to say:
“In reality, we won’t see massive 5G deployment for an IoT product anytime soon. Given the rate at which cellular networks are established, it will be some time yet before 5G networks are widespread enough to roll out a global IoT product. And even if we were to examine the current benefits of 5G as true, it’s possible that 5G is just not meant for IoT.”
Supalla advocates that IoT developers should turn their attention to LTE networks which are better defined and already proven. Some are still disgruntled that, even though a big deal was made about the advent of 4G network speeds in the mobile industry, the reality is that, for most users, 4G only turns out to be slightly faster than 3G. Some may not be able to notice any difference at all. The fear is that network providers may once again develop a slightly-faster-than-4G service and label it 5G, making it more of a marketing ploy than any real progress in the network space. Additionally, while 5G developers aim to increase bandwidth and geographic coverage, this may not directly impact the development of IoT products.
The truth is, fully-fledged 5G networks—ones that will tangibly benefit IoT devices—are, at best, four years off; at worst, a decade or more. If IoT creators want to corner the market and attract adopters of their devices, they will need to rely on 4G and 4G LTE for now.