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Where are the robots? The wait for mission-critical IoT and massive IoT

02 July 2019 Matt Short

If we are to trust the tradeshow floors, we would think that the future is already here: displays of remote operating tables, robots making coffee, and displays of smart cows and agriculture appear ready for mainstream today. In reality, however, we aren't yet able to deliver these inventions because our current network infrastructure cannot support the data and latency requirements. There are intermediate steps that must be taken in the connectivity infrastructure before these fun inventions—and the trillion-dollar 5G market of our dreams—can come to fruition.

First steps: massive IoT at scale

Despite the hype of 5G, in the IoT domains we are just beginning to see 4G ramp. 4G will still be 95% of the cellular IoT deployments for the next five years and during that same timeframe will be competing strongly against LoRaWAN. The promise of the high-performance 5G future will be challenged by the reality of the use cases today. While autonomous cars need the advanced network, tracking livestock and deploying smart meters are adequately serviced now. The first major step towards 5G massive IoT will come in 2020 with the release 16 upgrades that include ultra-reliable low latency communications (URLLC). While network slicing and URLLC will not be mainstream until 2025, after the standards are finalized it will be up to the supply chain of chip and module makers and OEMs to accelerate adoption from previous generations. While we currently think the ramp will be in the 2022-23 timeframe, there is hope that the industry shift will be sooner.

The killer 5G use case

Looking to the future, the cellular IoT marketplace of 2024 will be split between energy and utilities, asset management, smart cities/home, and fleet management, with agriculture, retail, and medical emerging. There is no doubt that the market will be large; but what will drive the buildout in the near term? The research shows that the majority of the volume is in low-power, low-bandwidth applications, which is in stark contrast to the media attention surrounding high-performance applications like autonomous driving and service robots and drones. The one application that could promise to drive performance and latency is fixed mobile broadband. Google and others have spent a tremendous amount of money on fiber to the home. 5G to the home could enable high-performance, easy-to-install access, and combined with low latency communication, enables a step function in applications like online gaming and streaming on demand. The network for IoT needs a strong driver to build out the infrastructure, and this is the potential killer use case.

Worth the wait

While "smart cows" may revolutionize the dairy industry, it's not the kind of innovation that will change the world. However, smart cows will come online with other technologies that will fundamentally change our planet, and it will all rely on a true and fully implemented 5G network. The future that we are imagining today is exciting and, hopefully, worth the wait.

Matt Short is the senior research director for IoT within the Transformative Technology team at IHS Markit
Posted 2 July 2019

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