With 5G networks and phones finally launching, much of the industry is pointing toward the Internet of Things as the field that will benefit the most. Indeed, 5G will transform IoT. However, the ways it will do so are complex, the transformation will be slow, and the ways 5G will be used in IoT are quite diverse.
5G will ultimately bring three main benefits over previous cellular generations: far more bandwidth, much higher service quality (in terms of high reliability and low latency), and the ability to support a vastly greater density of connected devices. And it will enable telcos to deliver a tailored combination of these features to a given industry, use case, or customer, using network slicing.
However, deployment of these features will be gradual over the next few years. And although some use cases will easily adopt these features—such as adding much more video collections to security systems—the more complex use cases, such as vehicle-to-vehicle communications supporting autonomous vehicles, will take many more years of development.
Some Use Cases Will Benefit From 5G Faster Than Others
IoT use cases are extremely diverse, ranging from the simple, such as fleet tracking systems, to the complex, such as automated public transportation systems. Some use cases require only simple data collection from a few basic devices in a relatively closed system, while others use advanced analytics, vast numbers of devices, huge amounts of data, autonomous machines, and integration with an organization’s full IT and operations systems. 5G is designed to give operators the flexibility to support this wide range of potential use cases.
Given this use case diversity, some use cases need some or all 5G features, while others need not wait. Examples of use cases requiring 5G features include air traffic monitoring, which would need ultra-high reliability and service quality; freight monitoring, which could leverage a high density of simple devices; public safety cameras, which could leverage enhanced mobile broadband; and traffic management systems that could leverage all three. In each of these categories, organizations can already achieve a lot with the existing network connectivity, but the use case potential vastly expands when 5G capabilities are added.
Although 5G is beginning to appear in markets around the world, most deployments will begin with enhanced mobile broadband. The other features will come online over the next few years. Those interested in leveraging those features in their IoT use cases will need to consider this gradual deployment in their planning. Some use cases will be feasible much earlier than others.
That said, the more complex use cases will likely need long-term planning and R&D to make use of 5G. And most of these can begin with existing connectivity, and then add capabilities over time as connectivity and other technical advances (such as in edge computing, AI, and IoT platforms) allow.
How to Proceed With 5G IoT?
Given the complexity of many future IoT use cases, the slow rollout of 5G features is unlikely to trouble most companies. Instead, the beginning of the 5G era marks a useful starting gun for the race to begin. We now have clear visibility on what 5G means and a ticking clock for the features to come online.
The start of the 5G era creates some work for the wider IoT industry. IoT suppliers should carefully assess now how full-featured 5G could be used in the future in their field. Their strategic planning and R&D efforts should take that future into account. Enterprises deploying IoT solutions should do so with an understanding of how they might evolve those solutions over time, given the expanding capabilities. And telecom service providers need to collaborate with the IoT suppliers and users as they work to launch 5G features, to ensure they deliver what the market needs.