There are many ways to provide connectivity for IoT devices. Traditionally popular choices include Ethernet, Wi-Fi, and Bluetooth, but there is one connectivity solution that has the potential to change the game completely – 5G.
5G for IoT will have a huge impact
Today cellular networks can provide coverage almost anywhere, as a result, it can make a lot of sense for a manufacturer or an enterprise to choose cellular as the method to get their devices connected. The current most widely used generation of networks (at least in the consumer space), the fourth generation (4G), offers great bandwidth, allowing devices to exchange a lot of data quickly.
4G is great, it is reliable, fast, and offers excellent coverage. However, good as it is, 4G still has its limitations. This is where the fifth generation, or 5G, is about to unleash a whole new world for IoT devices. Not only is 5G faster than 4G, but it also provides a host of other advantages beyond just speed which make it well suited to a huge range of IoT use cases.
Key benefits of 5G for IoT
Previous generations of cellular networks from 1G through to 4G were all primarily designed to support consumer devices, with IoT connectivity as a bit of an afterthought. By contrast, 5G is the first generation to be designed with IoT devices in mind from the start. This means that its characteristics not only provide a great solution for high data usage devices such as those commonly seen in the consumer space, it’s also better optimized for devices sending small amounts of data less regularly.
One of the benefits of 5G which is talked about far less regularly is the significant improvements in efficiency over previous network generations. 5G is many multiples more efficient (up to 90%) in the way it transmits data. For many classic IoT use cases, this is huge. More efficiency means better battery life. This will not only enable a longer lifespan for devices, but it also means being able to reduce physical device size or provide space savings to be dedicated to greater computing power. In the context of 2021, this also has relatively significant sustainability implications, reducing power consumption across the network.
One of the main characteristics of 5G is the new radio frequencies it uses, which are in the range of 24 to 300 GHz. These can support much higher bandwidths than frequencies used in previous generations. However, the communication range of these frequencies is relatively short, meaning that 5G networks will need a lot more, smaller cells than those used by 4G or 3G.
These small cells are an advantage, as the antennas are more discreet and take up much less space than the traditional cell towers. Many can be located indoors to bring targeted coverage to shopping malls, offices, and schools.
Small cells come in three varieties, micro, pico, and femto, and are used to cover ranges from around 1.5 miles down to only a few meters. These cells are designed to bring access right to the user and serve just a dozen or so people or devices at a time. In IoT terms, this means that no matter where an IoT device is located or where it moves to, it should always be connected to the 5G network.
More data for more devices, more quickly
Another advantage is that 5G connected IoT devices will be able to utilize multiple data streams. This is made possible by a feature supported by 5G known as Multiple Input, Multiple Output, or MIMO. This is taken to the next level with 5G, which supports massive MIMO, serving hundreds of antennas, supercharging a device’s ability to send and receive data, allowing more devices to transmit more data, more quickly.
5G can also direct the signals straight to an IoT device, with a technique known as beamforming. This focused communication method will mean that critical devices can get the speed and bandwidth needed to serve its application in the best way possible.
Your own 5G private network
Then there’s network slicing – 5G makes it possible to create completely independent virtual ‘slices’ within the physical network. This means that a company could have its own 5G network for its IoT applications without the need to invest in 5G hardware. Each application can have its own service level, so that data that really needs to get through, such as that for safety and alarm management, will be given top priority. Your own virtual network also offers enhanced security compared to sharing the general network with other users.
High reliability, low latency
5G also offers IoT devices extremely high-reliability and low latency. Known as Ultra Reliable Low Latency Communications or URLLC, this ensures that IoT applications serving extremely critical use cases such as remote surgery and autonomous vehicles will always have a fast and reliable connection. When hundreds or potentially even thousands of different devices are relying on almost instant information from across the network to make decisions, this low latency capability will be critical. As everything around us becomes connected, the performance of that connectivity will be key to enabling high quality, seamless and safe decision making.
Top use cases of 5G for IoT
One of the big use cases for 5G is supporting the Industrial Internet of Things, or IIoT. This will transform the efficiency of factories, helping them become more efficient, maximize production time and boost quality. Data from IIoT devices can be processed by local computers using Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning to analyze how machines can be used better or tease out the causes of quality problems.
With 5G set to roll out across all urban areas before long, there is immense potential for 5G IoT devices to help create the ‘smart city’. Monitoring air pollution, traffic speeds, and public transport, IoT and 5G, in combination with Artificial Intelligence techniques, can assess where people are moving to in the city. This allows the city to control traffic signals to reduce carbon emissions from idling vehicles and cut commuting time.
Even traditional, previously low-tech industries such as agriculture can also benefit. Using the connectivity of IoT sensors, doors and gates can be monitored to ensure security, while the temperature and humidity can be assessed to ensure optimum growing conditions or predict the right time to harvest crops.
Reaping the rewards
With networks starting to roll out across the globe, using 5G for IoT will become an increasingly viable connectivity option for companies looking to launch IoT solutions and products. Although 5G has not yet seen large-scale IoT deployments we expect that this is going to change, and soon!
If you want to know more or think 5G might be the right choice for your deployment get in touch and the Pelion team will be happy to help.