5G: Is It Worth All the Hype?
A new dawn is upon us with the fifth generation mobile network, lovingly recognized to many of us as 5G. With it will come new capabilities for the Internet of Things (IoT), with the potential to innovate in ways never before seen to change society and the way we live. What will the future of cellular look like?
The first generation mobile network (1G) was all about voice. 2G was about voice and texting; 3G was about voice, texting, and data; 4G was everything in 3G but faster, but 5G proposes to be breakneck – fast enough to download a full-length HD movie in seconds.
5G and Smartphones
After years of buildup, 5G is finally poised to become a reality in its takeover from 4G. A recent McKinsey study predicts that the number of connected devices will reach 43 billion by 2023. Increasingly, manufacturers are releasing 5G capable smartphones, and major operators are gradually building out their 5G networks. Having said that, there is still a lot of work to be done in making the technology available to the majority of smartphone users. The chances are, you will not be able to make use of your 5G smartphone to its full potential due to the lack of 5G network coverage available today.
LTE (“Long Term Evolution”) is a strategy that was employed to gradually advance network technology to 4G capability. This term was used at that time to market 4G devices when, in reality, the coverage and capabilities of 4G weren’t widely available. It’s likely we will see this same gradual approach into 5G, with the differences between 4G LTE and 5G initially being negligible. It could be several years before 5G is widely available and feature-rich.
5G = Massive Internet of Things (IoT)
IoT is a term that describes the connectivity to the Internet of physical objects that can contain sensors and can collect, process and perform real-time analytics on data. Examples of this could include wearable fitness devices, package asset trackers or even your Amazon Alexa. These devices are far simpler than smartphones and therefore more cost-efficient, utilizing Low Power Wide Area Network (LPWAN) standards to piggyback the current mobile infrastructure at a slice of the available spectrum, which offers significant boosts in signal penetration and coverage. An example of this requirement would be a sensor in a severe environment, like an underwater one. The low-powered nature of the device also allows for a battery life of ten years and beyond.
5G promises vast improvements over current IoT capabilities, enabling scalability to what is known as “Massive IoT.” With latency values of a trifling millisecond, one can download an HD film in seconds. It will be able to support up to 100 times more connected devices per unit area with lower power consumption. This all adds up to a massive number of static and mobile IoT devices being supported, which have a diverse range of speed, bandwidth and quality of service requirements. It also equals a huge increase in data transfer, processing and storage. Presently, cloud computing facilitates the central processing and storage of data, data across devices and connectivity standards. Operators and enterprises are addressing the challenge to help handle these data volumes with edge computing and artificial intelligence techniques.
Thus, billions more things are being connected due to lower cost and power needs, with longer range and truly global coverage capabilities. Some use cases are:
Self-driving cars: Sensors in vehicles generate large amounts of data, measuring temperature, traffic conditions, weather, etc. These functions rely on real-time transmission of information to meet the demand of these applications. With the increase in speed and lower latency, vehicles will become more intelligent by being able to collect and process even more information, including time-critical data, leading to improvements in efficiency, performance and driver experience.
Healthcare: Medical services will see improvements with the proliferation of IoT devices. Remote locations without proper healthcare facilities will benefit from greater speed, lower latency and data analysis, with remote surgery becoming a possibility. Here’s an article we wrote with CoreKinect on the topic of medical device asset tracking.
Logistics: Asset tracking IoT sensors could allow for efficiently gathering data at all points within the supply chain, transforming end-to-end logistics operations and improving the customer experience. An enterprise would have access to detailed information including being able to locate a package (indoors and outdoors) along its route, what temperature it was stored in throughout transportation, where in the warehouse it was stored, and when it was delivered to the retailer.
Smart cities: 5G will enable wider applications in smart city initiatives from water and waste management, traffic monitoring, safety and security, to enhanced healthcare facilities. As more and more sensors make their way into the infrastructure, not only will 5G be able to handle the massive data load, but cities can engage and connect with citizens and businesses as they become more intelligent and integrate with one another at high-speed and low latency.
Smart cities, self-driving cars and remote surgery will become part of the fabric of our society, rather than the stuff of science fiction they are today. We are connecting machines together that can communicate and learn from one another, rather than simply connecting ourselves to other people. All this will be made possible through ubiquitous coverage of 5G and 5G capable devices. We’d say the hype is worth it.
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