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5G on IoT: a single network for millions of applications

23 May 2019 Bill Morelli

With commercial 5G deployments beginning across the world, there will be increasing interest surrounding the benefits that 5G can provide to the growing internet of things (IoT) movement. A major roadblock to realizing the potential and promise of the IoT is that multiple, specialized networks are being utilized for different IoT use cases, from applications that utilize low-data transfer rates to high-end mission critical applications that require instantaneous data transfers. 5G, however, offers a solution that allows for a single network to support myriad IoT use cases and build economies of scale.

The importance of 5G on the IoT

In short, IoT growth is exploding, and using multiple specialized networks to handle various IoT applications is costly and difficult to scale. In a span of just ten years, from 2020 to 2030, IHS Markit expects the installed base of IoT devices to grow from 40 billion to 140 billion, and the improvement from 4G to 5G in terms of the IoT is stark: today's 4G networks, for example, can support up to 6,000 NB-IoT devices on a single cell. With 5G, on the other hand, up to one million devices can be handled by a single cell.

It's also worth noting that even "simple" IoT applications that require minimal data transfer rates can result in massive volumes of data transmitting over networks, and this requires a great deal of connection management for each network. On 5G, however, this is not the case: the single network approach of 5G is already optimized to handle massive data transfers across a broad range IoT applications.

Real-world IoT use cases and the potential of 5G is increasingly moving toward the use of robots in its warehouses for packing, distribution, and other inventory management tasks. By placing IoT sensors on everything in the warehouse from the products to the robots and more, inventory can be monitored in real time, from the time an order is placed to the time it's left the warehouse. 5G can allow the company to track every product with IoT sensors using a single network, which is more cost-effective and efficient than using different networks for various elements of inventory management in such a confined space.

Similar logic applies to smart cities. The growth of the smart cities market has been hindered because multiple network technologies are being used for all the different elements that make a city "smart." For instance, cellular or Zigbee networks are used for electric and water meters, while mission-critical private broadband networks are utilized for public safety functions. But with 5G, a single network with specialized radios could manage every aspect of a smart city, allowing for economies of scale and supporting a much broader set of use cases than has been seen to date.

The bottom line

5G will provide countless benefits on the road to realizing the potential of the IoT. The advantage of using a single 5G network—as opposed to multiple networks for various IoT applications—will prove more efficient, more cost-effective, and will provide economies of scale across a wide variety of IoT use cases.

Bill Morelli is executive director for enterprise & IT at IHS Markit
Posted 23 May 2019


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