December 12, 2019 10:36 CET

5G: What It Means for IoT

5G will drive big changes in IoT

5G is on everyone’s minds these days, and for good reason. Not only will 5G improve how we use and communicate with technology, it will also change how various technologies communicate with one another. And it means everything will happen a much faster pace with far greater reliability.

The Evolution of Wireless Technology

The evolution of wireless communication technology stretches back to the 1990s, when 2G was introduced (previous technology was just a network with voice call capabilities.)

5G means
  • Faster average speed
  • Higher peak rates
  • Lower latency
  • Better security
  • Robust & reliable

During the 2G era there were a number of important advancements, such as GSM (Global Systems for Mobile Communication), which enabled data transfer at speeds that would make us laugh today (30-35 kbps), and GPRS (General Packet Radio Service) which operated on technology similar to that used by GSM, but with higher speeds (110 kbps).

With the introduction of EDGE (Enhanced Data rates for GSM Evolution) in 2003 we entered new territory.  EDGE represented a major technological advancement, offering speeds of up to 135 kbps, and it laid the foundation for what was to be known as 3G.

With 3G, which offered speeds of up to 2mbps, we could now send or receive large emails and texts, browse the web, enjoy video streaming, and most importantly, we had better security. 3G was based mostly on EDGE and CDMA2000 (Code-division Multiple Access) technologies, and while CDMA2000 operated on concepts similar to EDGE, it also enabled multiple channels to communicate simultaneously.

4G ushered in the era of mobile Internet, and set several requirements for mobile networks, including mandating the use of Internet Protocol (IP) for data traffic, and enjoyed minimum data rates of 100 mbps. Essentially, it was an extension of 3G technology, with more bandwidth and services.

Now it’s 5G’s turn, and while in some ways its introduction can be seen as ‘the next step’ when it comes to wireless connectivity, in reality it is the next step in digitization.

What is 5G

The fifth-generation mobile network will not just improve how we connect with each other, it will bring great benefits to how we interconnect and control machines, objects, and devices, while delivering higher speeds, lower latency, and better security. It’s been designed to meet the high growth in data and connectivity of today, while also keeping a firm eye on tomorrow’s innovations. It will initially operate in conjunction with existing 4G networks, before evolving to fully standalone networks.

The sheer numbers of devices that will now be able to connect has the potential to revolutionize everything from modern industrial practices and campus networks to industries such as agriculture and manufacturing.

Robust & reliable

The 5G network will be able to handle a lot more devices than earlier networks, so billions of IoT connected devices will be able to instantaneously connect. To put it another way, if you have a radio cell covering a particular area you would previously have, just say, 300 mobile phones in use in this area when you hit capacity. The cell was occupied, and no more phones could connect.  With 5G you can add just say 30 thousand devices to the cell and it still won’t be at capacity.  This means 5G can better handle the high loads seen in cities or arenas or on company campuses. On the other hand, the new lower frequencies will allow for more robust and reliable connections in rural areas.

In terms of how it works, 5G is consistently a much more reliable technology than earlier generations.  This is important when it comes to outages or when parts of the network need to be updated.  The 5G architecture is much simpler while at the same time it is built on more robust foundations and standards. This means there should be less incidents and a lot less downtime, which is great news for IoT, particularly mission-critical solutions.

Faster speeds & Lower Latency

With 5G we’ll see speeds of 1 Gbps up to 10 Gbps, which means 5G will be, on average, ten times faster than 4G – and within a few years we’ll see speeds of up to 1+ gigabits per second at peak speed. To put that into perspective, today most homes with fiber have speeds of 100 megabits per second, with 1000 megabits equal to one gigabit. Another way of looking at it: you will be able to stream 400 films simultaneously on super high res TV without ever missing a beat.

When it comes to IoT, this will make a massive difference for applications such as CCTV, especially if you have maybe six or seven cameras covering an area in, just say, a factory.

If you have a 5G station, the capacity is so big that you will be able to stream an enormous amount of open video without reaching any kind of capacity ceiling. When you combine that kind of speed with lower power requirements you start to see why 5G will be ideal for IoT.

Lower latency means near real time communications, which can be a big boost when it comes to real-time control of devices, automation, autonomous vehicles, industrial robotics, and security systems. 4G latency is actually quite quick – around 30-40 milli-seconds – but with 5G that number is reduced to 1-2 milliseconds, which again, makes 5G a major game changer when it comes to IoT.

Think of a mine where you need to cut a rock. Previously, you would need to be on-site to do that but with the low latency that comes with 5G you can do this remotely. This can be a game changer when it comes to real-time control of devices, industrial robotics, vehicle to vehicle communication, and security systems.  Apply this same principle to remote surgery and other remote medical care, procedures, and treatment and suddenly healthcare becomes transformed.

5G & Security

There are more and improved security standards in 5G, with more security checks, which means your data will be a lot safer. 5G will enable better and faster tools for authentication and encryption of traffic and connected devices. Faster speeds make it possible to share and install new software and security updates much more quickly than today, enabling intelligent real-time IoT security services.  Faster speeds, faster response times, and more connected devices also make system monitoring more efficient, and actions taken much faster. 5G also gives the ability to prioritize safety-related traffic in the network much more efficiently than today, and there are more secure technologies for traffic in networks to and from other countries.

IoT devices intended for industrial and other M2M applications are, unlike many consumer devices, better designed, better secured, and will, in many cases, connect to specific network slices or through IoT gateways, which will drastically reduce the potential for security breaches. That said, devices must be monitored to ensure they behave as intended.

Big benefits come at a cost

So, while it’s abundantly apparent there are enormous benefits when it comes to 5G and IoT, 5G doesn’t use the infrastructure laid down by 3G and 4G, so it will be far more expensive and complicated to implement. That said, Tele2 is invested in the future, with access to 5G beginning in 2020.

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