5G: Hype or Industrial IoT Reality?

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By: jtoonstra [at] ztr [dot] com (Jason Toonstra)

Manager, Advanced Concepts Group

The dawn of 5G is upon us, and it’s projected to have a profound impact on our daily connected lives. We’ve all heard the hype about the ability to download a high definition movie to our mobile phones in the matter of a couple of seconds with 5G. Consumers expect 5G to deliver the network speed and ability to access online digital content in near real-time. These capabilities are built on a new global standard called 5G New Radio (NR), and wireless operators have started to deploy networks that support this new standard with rollouts expanding in the coming years. But, how will this affect the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) where download speeds and low latency aren’t necessarily a top priority?

4G and IoT

Despite the hype of 5G, 4G (LTE) stands strong as the wireless technology for IIoT, as it provides a stable and mature platform from which to deploy rich applications. While some mobile operators are deploying 5G wireless technologies today, 4G will continue to be widely supported for many years to come. Deploying a wireless technology such as 4G today gives the confidence that it will provide the necessary connectivity to meet business needs as new 5G technologies are not yet available in all regions (and lack the maturity of today’s 4G networks).

The Power Factor

Devices used in IIoT applications must be very power efficient and ideally able to operate in a variety of environments where wireless connectivity has previously been a challenge, such as deep inside a building. Two complementary 5G wireless technology standards that deliver on these requirements are Cat-M1 (LTE-M) and NB-IoT. These technologies support lower data rates but are suitable for most typical IoT applications that operate with strict power constraints. Both Cat-M1 and NB-IoT are considered part of 5G as they can coexist alongside 5G NR in the same spectrum and support the massive scale of connected devices anticipated in IoT. As such, 5G is a suite of technologies that look to meet the needs of a variety of applications regardless of their bandwidth requirements. The rollout of Cat-M1 and NB-IoT is now underway, with a number of wireless operators worldwide offering service alongside their existing LTE networks. To bring this scale into context, Ericsson is forecasting that by 2024, there will be 4.1 billion active cellular IoT connections.

The 5G Outlook

5G will not only facilitate massive connectivity of power efficient IoT devices; it will also play an important role in new and enhanced services in IIoT. While Cat-M1 and NB-IoT will not necessarily be able to deliver services requiring both high bandwidth and low latency, 5G New Radio (NR) will have this ability. 5G NR’s capabilities will bring exciting opportunities in the areas of autonomy, Augmented Reality (AR) and Artificial Intelligence (AI) applications. These areas will benefit from 5G by allowing more real-time control of remote systems, enhancing the safe operation of IoT connected platforms, distributed intelligence and immersive experiences.

Planning Ahead

As 5G emerges and grows, the evaluation of evolving 5G technologies and their applications is the key to ensuring we bring the correct IoT products to market. The implementation of 5G technologies is not necessarily straightforward and requires careful consideration of the use cases for the device. We need to consider network availability, application data rate and power requirements when evaluating the introduction of a new wireless technology.

Each 5G wireless technology has specific trade-offs in terms of performance and capabilities that must be balanced against the expected benefits. LTE is currently managing these trade-offs, and will continue to do so well into the future. At ZTR, we demonstrate our commitment to the IoT market by leveraging our experience to make sure customers understand these balances as they relate to the introduction of new wireless technologies.

5G will not be the sole driver of innovation in IIoT, but will open the door to new opportunities and applications that may not be available today. The 5G impact may not yet be immediately felt, but the new networks and infrastructure being built today should mean an exciting future for IIoT, with ZTR ensuring its IoT product roadmaps align with industry requirements.

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