T.V. Ramachandran, President, Broadband India Forum

5G is perceived to be the foundation of a world where connectivity is like the air we breathe – ubiquitous, ever-present and never failing. It is evident that 5G will spur innovation across industries and provide a platform for enabling emerging technologies such as internet of things (IoT) to become an integral part of our economy and life. In fact, 5G is the basis for realising the full potential of IoT. As per Ericsson AB’s Mobility Report 2018, there will be 550 million 5G subscriptions in 2022 and Asia-Pacific will be the second-fastest growing region with 5G accounting for 10 per cent of all subscriptions in 2022.

5G is more than just speed

Although 5G technology will be fast enough to download a full-length HD mo­vie in seconds, it will provide much more than just faster download speeds. Its unique combination of high speed connectivity, very low latency and ubiquitous coverage will support transport infrastructure requir­ed for smart vehicles such as connected cars, trucks and buses, where a split-second delay could be the difference between a smooth flow of traffic and a four-way collision. 5G will enable us to control more devices remotely in applications where real-time network performance is critical, such as remote control of heavy machinery in hazardous environments (thereby improving worker safety) and even remote surgery. It promises to make remote medical care a reality and to be an agent of change for the future of the industry.

In Europe, two companies, Imaginalis and El.En, are collaborating with Ericsson to use the latter’s expertise and technologies to make surgery more precise and less expensive, and reduce the side effects for patients. One of the first activities planned is to aid Imaginalis in advancing remote diagnosis by improving mobile uplink connectivity and data compression to transfer images and perform remote analysis. With 5G wireless connection, the workflow could become smooth and intuitive, making it possible for an expert surgeon to perform a surgery in Cambridge or Boston, when the system and patient are located elsewhere. For a country like India, it has the potential to provide un­matched cost-effective and remote healthcare benefits.

IoT – Connecting beyond imagination

IoT will impact industries and the daily life of people. Things such as containers, street lights, trash cans and trees are already connected to the internet. Many new markets are emerging, such as smart homes, connected cars, smart grids and smart healthcare. We can only imagine what will be connected in the near future. Common to all of these markets and related applications is the use of real-time data from connected “things”, which improves all kinds of processes, ultimately saving mo­ney. The expectations for reliability, per­formance, quality of experience and long-time availability are extremely high and connectivity is a critical success factor.

The IoT industry comprises a variety of devices to fulfil the many applications. For the automotive industry, a technology providing a higher achievable data rate and lower latency is required. Therefore, 802.11p or traditional cellular technologies are a better technology match.

The road to 5G and IoT

With connectivity at the heart of industry transformation, 5G will have a key role to play in the evolution of communication, businesses and society as a whole. Today, the vast majority of operator IoT revenues come from connectivity, but in the next five years, the revenue will also come from service-enablement platforms, apps and services. Operators capable of creating and ad­­d­­ing IoT value beyond connectivity, by providing intelligent platforms and facilitating ecosystem collaboration, will become transformation partners for other industries.

5G to become a catalyst for IoT innovation

5G deployments are envisioned as a complex amalgamation of next-generation technological enhancements in telecommunication networks, which will become the catalyst for next-generation IoT services. Examples of such enhancements include advanced modulation schemes for wireless access, network slicing capabilities, automated network application life cycle management, software-defined networking and network function virtualisation, and support for cloud-optimised distributed network applications.

In fact, for IoT services to be deployed efficiently on a large scale, 5G support is essential. It provides critical benefits such as improved network speeds and capacity, reduced communication latency and flexible service delivery models.

5G-IoT will transform industries

What is most exciting is the long-term vision for 5G, which includes massive machine-type communications, and ultra-reliable and low latency communications. Together, these enhancements can help transform industries with ultra-available, low latency links. 5G will play a key role in supporting next-generation IoT services in the automotive, industrial and healthcare verticals.

  • Automotive: One of the primary use cases of 5G will be connected cars paired with augmented reality and virtual reality. Enhanced vehicular communication services will include direct communication (between vehicles, vehicles and pedestrians, and vehicles and infrastructure) and network-facilitated communication for autonomous driving. Its use cases will focus on vehicle convenience and safety, including intent sharing, path planning, coordinated driving and real-time local updates.
  • Industrial: 5G will deliver not only a more reliable network, but also an extremely secure one for industrial IoT by integrating security into the core network architecture. Industrial facilities will be among the major users of private 5G networks.
  • Healthcare: The requirement for real-time networks will be met through 5G, which will significantly transform the healthcare industry. IoT use cases in healthcare include the live transmission of HD surgery videos that can be monitored remotely.

5G-IoT will redefine smart living

For city planners, the greatest benefit of a 5G network is its ability to deliver on the promise of smart cities. 5G’s massive IoT capabilities will build on the existing mobile IoT services, connecting far more devices and offering cost and energy savings. This will increase the granularity and coverage capacity of multiple applications such as asset tracking, utility monitoring, smart homes, smart cities and smart agriculture. 5G will continue to improve on low power capabilities and allow operation in both licensed and unlicensed spectrum, which will increase mobile IoT’s share in the connected device market.

5G challenges

  • Operating across multiple spectrum bands: A combination of low, mid-and high bands will be used for providing 5G services. Mobile operators are likely to use a smaller set of spectrum to deploy 5G services before gradually expanding these to other spectrum bands. Refar­ming 4G spectrum for 5G services could pose technical challenges.
  • Preparing the network core: 5G will require significant changes in the areas of network virtualisation, cloud radio ac­cess network and massive MIMO. To prepare for 5G, mobile operators must start implementing these technologies prior to actual 5G implementations.
  • Gradual upgradation from 4G to 5G: Implementing technologies and services in a continuous, on-demand manner and ensuring that a 5G-like experience can be delivered through technologies that are compatible with 4G is a critical in­dus­­try need.
  • Ensuring data interoperability: During the 5G development and trial phase, it is es­s­­en­­tial to achieve interoperability between 5G network and user element equip­ment, and verify the critical technologies needed for commercial 5G deployments.
  • Evolving global standards: The move towards achieving 5G-enabled IoT calls for the serious consideration of interoperability between IoT solutions. All major standardisation bodies have thus established working groups dedicated to this goal. Most organisations for developing standards have been formed only recently, with the overall specifications still under development. Of the few specifications that have been published, most only address the overall system requirements and architecture and do not delve into the specifics of detailed solutions. Moreover, the manner in which the standards are developed will impact the ro­bustness and ubiquity of the 5G network. Despite the­re being several models of standards development, such as the proprietary and government-led models, collaborative standards development has held a superior position as it offers benefits of consumer welfare, interoperability, competition and innovation.
  • Sustainable business models: Establish­ing business models, which can address the diverse range of 5G use cases including low-cost and high performance im­ple­m­en­­tations, is an industry challenge. Buil­ding an application ecosystem, preparing the network infrastructure and establishing strategic partnerships are essential to developing sustainable business models for 5G services.

The future is bright

5G-IoT is set to transform our world completely, and can improve our lives in many aspects. The technology is still at a nascent stage in India but it is steadily gaining importance amongst government bodies, corporates and regulators. The government has announced the draft National Digital Communications Policy, 2018 to promote 5G-IoT. It has announced its plans to create a $20 billion IoT market in the country by 2022. The future looks bright and with countless opportunities.

Research inputs by Debashish Bhattacharya and Garima Kapoor