The combination of 5G and internet of things (IoT) technologies is often termed as revolutionary – one that has the capacity to disrupt both the enterprise and the consumer spaces. Together, these technologies can enable enterprises to improve operational efficiency, enhance customer experience and achieve business excellence. Consumers too stand to benefit from the much higher data transfer speeds and network reliability offered on connected devices powered by 5G.
The importance of such 5G-powered IoT connections has also been highlighted amidst the ongoing Covid-19 crisis. The pandemic has led to accelerated technology adoption, especially for IoT-based solutions, enabling remote asset monitoring and control across industries. Going forward, the post-Covid era will call for a substantial surge in connected devices, which will, in turn, generate huge amounts of mobile data volumes and require around five times lower latency than now. This is something 5G can enable. Together, 5G and IoT can be seen as building the foundation for a far more connected world.
The hyperconnected enterprise
Currently, most consumer as well as IoT use cases run on 4G networks, as 5G has not been rolled out in most countries. The scenario is expected to change somewhat with the advent of 5G. Although 4G will continue to be used in many consumer and enterprise IoT use cases, 5G will enable several new use cases. For instance, the ultra-reliability and low latency offered by 5G networks will allow self-driving cars, smart energy grids, enhanced factory automation and other applications to become a reality. 5G will also support technologies such as cloud computing, artificial intelligence (AI) and edge computing to handle the huge data volumes generated by IoT devices.
Some enterprise use cases for IoT networks powered by 5G are:
- Automotive and mobility: In the automotive and mobility space, driverless cars are expected to be the next big move. While large-scale adoption of driverless cars is still a distant reality, the increased use of connected and smart vehicles can be considered a step in this direction. For example, in a connected vehicle trial in Australia, telecom operator Telstra partnered with vehicle manufacturer Lexus Australia to deliver a cellular vehicle-to-everything (V2X) project. The project involved Telstra establishing a significant trial area across Melbourne, with coverage of both urban and rural roads. The trial activities included the virtualisation of roadside infrastructure. The creation of such a V2X ecosystem comprising interconnected vehicles requires both locational accuracy and low latency connectivity, which can be enabled through the combined use of 5G and IoT and can make roads safer in the short term. In the long term, the kind of precise information sharing that a 5G cellular V2X ecosystem can deliver would help give semi- and fully autonomous vehicles the eyes and ears they need for safe usage on roads.
- Applications in smart cities: In smart cities, 5G will enable enhanced traffic management by supporting a massive number of IoT connections comprising traffic lights, cameras and traffic sensors. Further, smart meters based on IoT sensors and supported by 5G could be used to monitor energy usage and help reduce consumption. For instance, the city of Chicago is harnessing the power of big data and IoT to fundamentally improve its services and economy. The launch of 5G will further enhance services by facilitating an analysis of the vast amounts of data being generated by IoT devices almost in real time, using edge computing.
- Healthcare: 5G and IoT technology can also improve the monitoring of the health of a city’s population whilst giving emergency services new tools to improve their response times. Further, 5G can enhance remote real-time diagnostics by delivering high-quality videos, while enabling the use of robots to dispense pharmaceuticals, support diagnostics and ultimately perform surgery.
Disrupting the consumer space
The combination of 5G and IoT technologies also promises to usher in disruptions in the consumer space. For a start, 5G networks will transform the mobile broadband experience for consumers by delivering download speeds of over 1 Gbps, promising a consistently high quality broadband experience with reliable internet access at home, in the office and on the move. This enhanced, reliable and high speed mobile broadband experience will be complemented by IoT devices and applications and facilitated by operators’ mobile IoT networks. Also, 5G will be able to support large volumes of data traffic and large numbers of users, including from IoT devices. Furthermore, the enhanced mobile broadband (eMBB) use case for 5G will support the delivery of high definition consumer video (such as TV and gaming), immersive communications such as video calling and augmented and virtual reality, and smart city services including IoT video cameras for surveillance. Another key use case for 5G is fixed wireless access (FWA) systems that provide internet access to homes using wireless technologies rather than fixed lines. 5G FWA enables home broadband services to be set up quickly and cost-effectively in areas that do not have access to fixed line home broadband. The main consumer-side benefit of FWA is performance, as FWA will deliver speeds similar to fibre-based services, enabling better connectivity in IoT devices. In addition, the cost per bit to connect a household to broadband using FWA can be up to 74 per cent lower than wireline connections. This would help in making the services offered by IoT devices more affordable and allow previously unconnected households and communities to realise the benefits of higher speeds and capacities on IoT devices.
Enabling 5G and IoT synergy
Recognising the numerous benefits that the combination of 5G and IoT could bring about for enterprises as well as consumers, the global standards body, 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP), has made a number of enhancements to 5G network architecture and new radio (NR) specifications in order to improve support for IoT devices. To this end, 3GPP’s Release 16 – the second phase of its 5G specifications, which it finalised in July 2020 – aims to enhance the capabilities of 5G NR and introduce support for key features such as ultra-reliable low latency communications (URLLC) and non-public/private networks.
According to the GSM Association (GSMA), the identification of URLLC is a key pillar in enabling resilience in the 5G era. This is because URLLC is critical in supporting enterprise IoT use cases, including ultra-reliable and critical systems such as automatic control of industrial devices and autonomous vehicles, as well as consumer sector applications in smart cities and smart homes.
Meanwhile, industrial IoT applications such as industrial robots, factory vehicles, predictive maintenance, connected tools and wearable technology require a high degree of security and reliability, which cannot be provided by public networks. To this end, Release 16 introduces support for non-public/private networks that serve the needs of enterprises. A number of independent spectrum options, including dedicated IoT frequency bands, shared bands and unlicensed bands, could be used to enable private networks. In addition, operators could allocate part of their spectrum assets to support these networks.
The digital disruption triggered by the Covid-19 pandemic has highlighted the importance of remote working mechanisms for organisations as well as industries. Such mechanisms can be facilitated by a combination of IoT and 5G technologies, which together can help support the surge in demand for connected devices and the need for faster connectivity in the post-Covid era. With 3GPP releasing its second phase of 5G specifications, stakeholders across the world should come together to build a connected global IoT network that supports a massive number of devices with diverse mobility and accessibility needs.