5G and IoT: More Evolutionary Than Revolutionary for Now
It can be tempting to think of the coming 5G mobile network as sort of the Holy Grail for IoT. In theory, it offers latency down to 1 millisecond. That’s at least 100 times faster than the blink of an eye. 5G also supports speeds of up to 10 gigabits per second, making it up to 100 time faster than 4G. It provides an easy gateway to edge computing while also supporting network slicing, enabling providers to provision dedicated slices for IoT applications.
But it’s not actually that simple for the alchemical-sounding synthesis of 5G and IoT. While 5G holds short-term promise for video-heavy IoT projects like autonomous cars, surveillance cameras and trouble-shooting drones, other applications — like AI on the factory floor — will need additional technical breakthroughs (narrowband/battery life) and aren’t likely to see a short-term boost from leaving 4G behind.
So what should engineers and developers consider when it comes to 5G and IoT? Seven experts weighed in with advice ranging from patience to practice with edge computing to remaining open to new business models.
Sometimes it’s important to begin with a reality check. “The pitch for 5G is increasing bandwidth and reducing latency,” explained Zach Supalla, CEO and founder of IoT startup Particle. “Certain applications like autonomous vehicles need gobs of data and so does streaming media and those are all reasons 5G is exciting and compelling. But separate from that world, the majority of IoT does not care about any of those things. That’s not the world we live in. The rest of the world is all sensors, which sensors don’t tend to produce that much data. What matters more in our world is IoT cost reduction and reducing power consumption.” Supalla is looking to what he calls “5G2” or “5G also” — when 5G towers are widely deployed, lower power options are available and narrowband efforts have come to fruition — as the time 5G will have the biggest impact on the largest number of IoT efforts. “Most of the really important innovations happening now are not branded 5G,” he said.
To look at it from a different way, IoT projects need a wide variety of communications protocols of which 5G is just one, said Alok Shah, vice president of business development, strategy and marketing of networks at Samsung Electronics America. So make sure you have the right project in mind. “5G is the right choice for an IoT device if one or more of the following targets are required: data throughput of 1 gigabit per second or more, latency of 10 milliseconds or less, and device density greater than 100,000 per square kilometer,” Shah said.