5G Massive IoT and the Cold Chain: COVID-19 Vaccines and Beyond
Successful cold chain management is vital for the safe, efficient deliveries of everything from our food to our vaccines. It is a delicate logistical feat that many of us often take for granted. In the coming years, 5G will be incrementally rolled out and expected to bring wide-ranging utility to the global supply chain, via an infinite number of new connected devices in the realm of “5G Massive IoT.” With it will come new capabilities for IoT asset tracking in ways that will drastically benefit every stakeholder along the way.
What’s the big deal with 5G?
5G network deployments have already begun, with extensive implementation across the wide-area network occurring throughout the past year. 5G technology assures enhanced data speeds, reduced latency and an enormous 90% reduction in power consumption. Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association claims that “5G will be a game changer because it’s 100 times faster and will support 100 times more devices than current 4G networks.”
The employment of 5G will have a knock-on effect on cellular IoT technologies and improve current capabilities globally. Now, cellular IoT devices come in forms like identity chips, communication devices, sensors, and cloud computing networks. They are used to collect, process and execute real-time analytics on data, and are becoming increasingly more favored than their GPS positioned counterparts due to being far more accurate and cost-effective. 5G is expected to radically improve these proficiencies and enable mass scalability, leading to a “massive” number of static and mobile IoT devices being supported. (Enter: 5G Massive IoT, and essentially the ability to make truly low-cost, long-battery life devices a commodity rather than a rarity.)
So what – how does this affect cold chain management?
Cold chain is a term used to refer to the safe transportation of perishable goods which need to be refrigerated at specific temperatures. This chain must remain uninterrupted through the production, storage, and distribution phases of a product, otherwise it will spoil and go to waste – an expensive mistake for businesses without effective strategies for tracking and monitoring in place. IoT technology is becoming essential to the success of cold chain management. For example, businesses are able to utilize IoT-enabled sensors to accurately monitor and operate the conditions of temperature-sensitive packages throughout a product’s entire journey. Data is collected and sent to a cloud computing facility which can then alert either the driver or an employee at HQ if the product conditions have changed.
Let’s look at two sample cold chain use cases that would be revolutionized by 5G Massive IoT.
In the pharmaceutical industry, vaccines need to be kept at low temperatures all the way from manufacturing to administration. Some vaccines, such as the Pfizer vaccine, must be stored at no less than a brisk -70°C. Maintaining infrastructure that supports these deepfreeze conditions is difficult and costly.
In the food and beverages industry, a disappointing one-third of the food produced globally is wasted, most of which due to supply chain disruption and an inability to recover. According to Food Engineering Mag, lack of sufficient cold chain infrastructure is considered one of the primary contributors to food loss and waste.
There are numerous ways in which 5G will be extremely beneficial to cold chain operations.
First, through superfast data speed, low latency and increased bandwidth, more information on asset tracking devices can be sent. This boosts visibility of the state and location of the asset as well as can help tackle the common issues of unforeseen delays or interruption in the supply chain. Human error or weather conditions can disrupt shipments. Using 5G enhanced Massive IoT applications and positioning, managers can reroute trucks or freight ships and make modifications to automated delivery systems.
Secondly, leveraging 5G Massive IoT devices paired with cloud-based cellular location will further drive down costs. Currently, cloud-based cellular location technology utilized in the supply chain enables asset trackers to use less power and maintain a longer battery life than those using GPS. The implementation of 5G will only widen the gap between the capability of cloud-based cellular location and other traditional location solutions that may lean on the deployment of additional infrastructure as opposed to ubiquitous cell towers. As Patrick Waldemar at Telenor Research says, “When everything is labelled, tracked and recorded automatically, gone will be the days of lost cargo, misplaced containers, and losses due to manual inefficiencies and labour.”
Third, this 5G, hyper-powered asset tracking will bring about universal asset visibility, and thus full accountability. Shipments usually change hands during the trip and in temporary or permanent storage, thus blurring the lines of responsibility and provenance in the supply chain. If the vaccine or refrigerated meat was damaged between Paris and London, where did the damage occur and who is actually responsible for the resulting cost? By installing 5G-enhanced IoT sensors to the package, managers can, at any given time, see the product’s location, temperature, humidity, and much more.
A 5G Massive IoT powered cold chain will transform society, starting with some of the most important use cases companies can tackle – whether that’s feeding lives or saving them.
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