Introduction of mobile’s 5th generation technology (5G) is underway. Industry operators, tech suppliers and vendors are moving rapidly to accelerate 5G rollout. Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile and other carriers worldwide have already launched tests.
The world’s first commercial 5G network was reportedly launched in Finland earlier this year. Meanwhile, analysts expect that the first 5G-ready phones will be introduced in the first half of 2019, with wider adoption starting in 2020.
New 5G networks will supercharge a surge in IoT technology and applications that provide the needed infrastructure to manage huge amounts of data, and build the IoT applications that create a smarter, more connect world.
5G will have a profound impact on almost every industry worldwide. The online trade press is awash with news of 5G developments every day. “This is, unquestionably, the year of 5G,” reports Spectrum, an online publication of the IEEE.
5G’s enhanced mobile broadband capabilities will facilitate massive increases in data transmitted from single devices and from new sensor deployments. In its most recent “State of the IoT Market” report, Verizon says “5G is expected to be up to 100 times faster than existing networks.” Ultra-high-speed broadband – often called enhanced mobile broadband, or eMBB – promises to be transformational.
For the Internet of Things (IoT) – or, to use our preferred term, the Internet of Everything (IoE) – the impact of 5G on IoT/IoE promises to be profound, as 5G will accelerate the deluge of sensor data already underway, triggering a torrent of new IoE applications.
A key driver behind 5G is the expansion of broadband capabilities. “5G will enable organizations to move into new markets and build new revenue streams with radically new business models and use cases, including IoT applications,” Ericsson says in a recent 5G Systems white paper. “It will be the major enabler of IoT.”
As Verizon notes it its report, “5G is expected to massively expand IoT applications and drive innovation across all industries.”
The fundamental shift in network architectures that 5G represents will fuel efficiency and revenue gains by organizations via a raft of soon-to-come, 5G enabled devices (including people with smartphones and smart watches).
Leap Ahead For Latency
A major benefit of 5G is that it significantly lowers latency – the time lag it takes for two or more devices to talk to one another. The latency range for 4G is about 30-60 milliseconds. But with levels as low as 1ms, 5G offers “near-zero” latency.
5G offers major improvements in throughput as well. Standards adopted by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) specify total download capacity for a single 5G mobile cell of at least 20Gbps. By contrast, the peak data rate for current LTE cells is a relatively paltry 1Gbps.
Giant Boost to Network Speed & Capacity
5G NR – the new air interface for 5G – will give cellular internet speeds a tremendous boost, which will enable a wide range of IoE sensor data use cases that were previously off the table. (An air interface is the radio frequency portion of the circuit between a mobile device and an active base station. The NR stands for “new radio” and the NR designation will likely be used much as LTE is used today.)
The fastest speeds and highest data-throughput capabilities yet available create enticing new IoE value propositions. 5G opens numerous new application options in areas such as telemedicine, smart buildings, mapping, worksite optimization, smart construction, autonomous cars, industrial automation, smart agriculture, virtual reality, and many others.
5G enables seamless people-to-thing, or thing-to-thing interactions that aren’t possible with slower, less reliable connections. For example, in partnership with SK Telecom and BMW Korea, Ericsson used 5G to track a connected car traveling at 170 km/hour as a demonstration of data transmission speeds on a 5G network.
One tradeoff is that 5G is a bigger drain on device batteries. As batteries continue improving, however, sensors will be able to transmit data wirelessly via 5G, thus providing the ability to handle greater data density across a wider spectrum of devices, locations and applications.
A Sensor Intelligence Use Case Explosion
So far, numerous barriers have blocked companies from gaining full value from sensor data. These barriers include limits on the types of data that can be acquired and data emitters that can be accessed, along with volume constraints and inadequate systems for acquiring, analyzing and acting on sensor data. (This short video, “Dealing With The Sensor Data Explosion” offers a great summary of the problem.)
Enabling smart buildings, for example, has been particularly challenging. Metals bounce or block transmissions, while concrete absorbs them. New connectivity options involving 5G, among other technologies, are removing the barriers and opening the doors of sensor data and IoE innovation for enterprises.
Promising use cases that 5G helps enable, cited by Ericcson and others include:
- Massive IoT (also known as massive machine-type communications, or mMTC) applications and systems that can establish ongoing two-way communications with vast numbers of geographically dispersed IoE devices. Such systems can sense data, analyze it, make decisions, and control actuation – providing surveillance, for example, or implementing distributed feedback control and monitoring critical components. A few examples might include monitoring building and infrastructure automation, smart agriculture and fleet management.
- Critical IoT (also called cMTC) applications to monitor and control assets in real time where latency requirements are very low and reliability needs high. For example, remote medical examination and surgery require very low latency and a high level of control so the surgeon gets tactile feedback that’s indistinguishable from – or even better than – manual techniques.
- Media on demand applications will support consumer use of media content (such as audio and video) anytime, anywhere. Media delivery can be optimized for bandwidth, latency and cost by deploying a content distribution network close to the edge, thus allowing consumers to experience VR and AR with ease.
- Smart city networks that include remote monitoring of city infrastructure, real-time traffic information and public safety alerts for improved emergency response times. Intelligent transportation systems (ITSs) will facilitate more efficient traffic management, dynamic traffic rerouting and traffic light control.
- Emergency communications to help with search and rescue and identify and fix catastrophic problems involving machinery – even if parts of a network have been damaged.
- Smart agriculture that combines data from people, places and things with (for example) environmental data to automate systems that support worker health and productivity, along with regulatory compliance and the health/status of crops and equipment.
- Factory cell automation, including assembly line devices that communicate with control units with high reliability and low latency to support critical functions. Industrial facilities are expected to be among the biggest users of private 5G networks that are more secure and reliable.
- Stadium networks that offer audiences a blend of physical and virtual experiences during concerts and sporting events, and allow crowd sourcing.
Making IoE Governance Easier
As ever-greater connectivity drives digital transformation, companies face a growing need to unify sensor data knowledge, handling and application development to govern IoE. More and more data traveling at ever-faster speeds isn’t of much use unless you can make sense of it all, understand what to do with it, and take action.
5G’s advanced capabilities will make portions of IoE governance easier by providing technological underpinnings and piles of new data-fuel for new sensor data services and technologies. These services can unify data collection, analysis and action while helping companies discover and interpret useful data intersections to improve efficiencies and unlock new revenue streams.