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5G — The fuel that will fire up the Internet of Things

There's been an evolution in broadband cellular technology in the past few years. 2G networks were made for voice transmission, 3G networks brought in voice and data, and 4G gave a boost to broadband Internet-based experiences. What's 5G's claim to fame? Well, 5G is about fusing computing capabilities with communications. Imagine a world where connected devices don't have to take the load of computing, because the network over which they communicate is capable enough to carry out processing. That's 5G for you, and it's coming this year.

More about the magic of 5G

There’s surprisingly little information out in the public domain about the technical specifications of 5G and the technical supremacies it will bring to the world of the Internet. However, this hasn’t dampened the wild sense of enthusiasm prevalent everywhere in terms of the benefits it will have for IoT. For starters, it’s believed that 5G will offer:

  • Speeds as high as 10Gbps, as predicted by Nokia.
  • Significantly lower latency than current 4G standards.
  • Expansion of cellular sites to enable far-reaching coverage (like in the mountains of Northern California, hopefully!).
  • Support for existing network infrastructure to handle hefty increases in data traffic.

Wait, hasn't IoT already arrived? What’s the 5G buzz all about?

That's a pretty widely expressed sentiment. Well, 5G will help IoT realize potentials well beyond what's possible with technologies available today. Interactions among humans and objects will increase to an all new level but yes, your son will still probably ignore you and your dog will still burst outside every time you open the door — sorry, there are not too many answers for those issues. Good luck with that! No matter what kids will be kids and dogs will be dogs.

Communication in real time, between objects placed in different continents, will be possible. 5G-connected sensors will gather data continuously, and proactively provide insights to humans that helps them make decisions to make their lives better, every day. Now if you want to ruin your day by watching “Zoolander,” “The Force Awakens,” “Wild Wild West,” “Meet the Parents II,” and so on and you will have accomplished that!

Furthermore, imagine an application where the potential threat of a forest fire based on atmospheric temperature and level of foliage is communicated to teams of emergency responders, averting fires instead of merely controlling their impact! That's the kind of reality that 5G-powered IoT will bring.

Better Internet will make IoT go big

Estimates by leading consultancies vary, but all tend to agree that there will be 20+ billion connected devices by 2020. Applications of IoT span across verticals like automobile, manufacturing, health care, home automation, agriculture, entertainment, IT, and a lot more. However, the biggest challenge that’s impeding the real growth in business-use cases and commercial applications of connected devices is “latency.”

Latency is the tiniest of durations of lag between data transmission at a terminal and its reception at the sensors inside connected devices.

Here are some examples to help you understand why 5G, the super-fast futuristic Internet with negligibly small latency, is awaited to make IoT big.

  • Any delays, breakdowns, and misalignments caused by a few microseconds of delay in manufacturing processes can cause assembly line slowdowns and disruptions.
  • An autonomous vehicle driving at 75 miles per hour will travel five feet further than expected if there’s a 50 microseconds delay in the instruction to apply brakes.
  • An unmanned flying vehicle like modern drones will only be able to fly faster and higher if instructions about course corrections and maneuvering are executed in near real time.
  • Virtual reality applications and augmented reality applications will find widespread adoption if latency issues are eliminated.

Now you get it? 5G is a five-times dose of gasoline that when poured over the flame called IoT will make it go boom! Is it any wonder, then, that forecasts estimate that the number of global 5G connections by 2024 could be at 41 million, 25 percent of which will be IoT related!

Here are some more IoT applications that will experience a massive boost because of 5G:

  • Residential and state infrastructure such as solar-powered street lighting will become more durable because of real-time massive Machine Type Communications (mMTC).
  • Safety communications without mobile devices, using device-to-device communication.
  • Health-care applications involving remote surgeries by deploying on-site robots that respond to a surgeon’s commands in near real time.

Current state of things

Addressing concerns around reach (for instance, the example of proactive reporting of potential forest fires) is critical to making 5G and IoT work together. The good news is that LTE cellular technology is addressing these challenges, and is acting as a base for 5G to be built upon.

Leading cellular companies are working hard to scale down to super-low data rates, giving connectivity with minimal power consumption and negligible bandwidth strains. LTE-based IoT devices will be able to use narrow bandwidth (180 kHz or thereabouts) and will support dozens of thousands of IoT devices per cell, enabling deep coverage.

5G will transform IoT devices from terminals to nodes

With 5G, wearable devices will be able to connect to other devices, helping device makers create new experiences henceforth unimagined and unrealized. 5G networks will blend the power of speed and smart.

5G will enable wearable devices and IoT devices to work as nodes of interconnected networks, instead of mere endpoints and terminals. Intel, for instance, is already investing heavily in technologies that work on ideas of core computing, edge computing, and access points of networks, preparing for the wave of 5G.

5G and IoT: Recipe for unmatched experiences

5G will be the beginning of the era when computing power and information will follow humans where they go, helping them solve problems and do things better in real time. Smartphones, tablets, wearable devices, IoT devices, and pretty much every category of web-enabled devices — all will operate with awareness of context and location, delivering amazingly augmented experiences.

Consider having an all-important client meeting planned in the evening, and getting contextualized data inputs about the clients via your smartwatch a few hours before that. 5G will be a complex set of planes lying under and over the conventional network. This infrastructure will help 5G systems work in an energy-efficient manner by switching to available sources like WiFi, and will enable them to deliver location-based and proximity-based services related to sensors, smartphones, and wearables.

Agreed, 5G is not yet fully operational; it’s nowhere near that. However, IoT-focused projects based on 5G connectivity are already under progress. As 5G becomes a reality, IoT will attain its full potential of bringing in changes that alter the way humans live.

Photo credit: Shuttersock