Unleashing the full potential of 5G to create a massive Internet of Things

5G technology combined with the IoT will transform our world

Unleashing the full potential of 5G to create a massive Internet of Things

By now, the term Internet of Things or IoT has become a part of the tech world’s everyday vernacular, and it broadly describes the concept of an interconnected network of physical objects, including machines, wearables, buildings, automobiles and a plethora of other types of devices. And these connected “things” are being designed to bring new services and deliver new levels of efficiency and safety all around us—in homes, businesses, cities, and across industries.

Now in 2017, despite billions of already-connected devices, we are only at the dawn of the IoT era. It is estimated that there will be more than 20 billion connected devices by the year 2020. This expansion will be fueled by the rapid growth of exciting new IoT use cases and opportunities all around the world.

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The benefits this connected world can provide are why connecting the IoT has become the hot topic in the technology world. Wireless connectivity is at the center of it all. And it is difficult to talk about wireless connectivity without mentioning 5G technology—the next-generation wireless network that will not only connect people, but also bring more efficient, lower-cost connectivity to the IoT.

The 5G Economy Study, an independent research commissioned by Qualcomm Technologies, provides insights to understanding the global, economic and social impact of 5G. The results of the study confirmed what many of us have long believed: 5G—with faster, ubiquitous, low-power connectivity—will make mobile networks even more essential than they are today.

By connecting new and more devices, 5G is expected to generate up to $12 trillion worth of goods and services. To put this in context, $12 trillion is nearly as much as all consumers in the United States spent in 2016, and it's more than the combined consumer spending of China, Japan, France, Germany and the U.K. last year.

Making 5G technology a reality for the massive IoT is not a simple task. It requires the entire mobile industry working together to ensure the next generation of networks can support a wide range of services and devices—and all these networks must seamlessly interoperate with one another. The effort is to design and standardize 5G New Radio (NR), a new, flexible 5G air interface that will scale efficiently for all kinds of IoT applications—from high-end surveillance cameras down to ultra low-cost sensors.

These IoT devices will generate a massive amount of data that can be used to provide better insight for the given application, as well as drive tremendous opportunities for data centers and network operators to create new value and new revenue sources. 5G NR will deliver new capabilities and efficiencies not possible with today’s wireless networks. Furthermore, 5G NR is being designed to be future-proof, providing forward-compatibility with services and devices that are not yet known today.

The 5G foundation begins with LTE IoT

While there is a lot of excitement around 5G, it is going to take some time before 5G networks proliferate. So, how do we meet today’s immediate demand for low-power, wide-area IoT? That’s where new LTE IoT technologies come into play.

For instance, Narrowband IoT (NB-IoT) is part of the latest wave of LTE Advanced Pro innovations, defined in 3GPP Release 13 and beyond, which extends LTE to even narrower bandwidth that is optimized for low data rate, latency-tolerant IoT applications. NB-IoT reduces device complexity, enables multiyear battery life and provides deeper coverage to reach sensors and meters in challenging locations such as remote rural areas or inside buildings. This is important as we design smarter cities and buildings.

Perhaps one of the most attractive qualities of Narrowband IoT is its ability to leverage already ubiquitous LTE networks, in addition to providing very high quality of service and comprehensive security—all because it’s a part of the mature LTE ecosystem. When 5G becomes commercially available, IoT connectivity will be further enhanced. Additionally, 5G NR will enable new capabilities, such as grant-free asynchronous transmissions to lower signaling overhead and reduce device power consumption and multi-hop mesh to inexpensively further extend network coverage.

5G technology will enable world-changing mission-critical use cases

In addition to providing efficient connectivity for the massive IoT, 5G technology is also being designed to enable a new class of IoT devices that can provide services in situations when failure is not an option. These require wireless connectivity that delivers low latency, high reliability, strong security and always-on availability.

Imagine future drone use cases, such as surveillance drones, used in firefighting. Not only do they need to be controlled remotely and operate beyond line of sight, but they also need to be maneuvered with ultra-high precision. This is where 5G mission-critical capabilities become essential—providing sub-1 millisecond latency and ultra-reliable communications between the drone and its pilot.

This is just one example. We believe the list of 5G mission-critical use cases will expand quickly over time as we invent a new generation of devices that will take advantage of the more capable 5G mobile network.

The hyperconnected 5G world is coming

Now you see how 5G technology fits into our IoT vision. But when will it become a reality? It’s sooner than you may think.

Commercial LTE IoT network deployments are expected this year after commitments from major operators worldwide, including AT&T, China Telecom, SK Telecom, Verizon and Vodafone. 5G NR interoperability trials are planned to start in the second half of 2017, and early 5G NR deployments will begin in the 2019 timeframe.

All in all, connecting the IoT will be an integral part of 5G, and we’re all very excited by the boundless potential it will bring in taking us one step closer to the vision of a totally interconnected world.

Copyright © 2017 IDG Communications, Inc.

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