The new 5G mobile network is on its way – but what does it mean for IoT?
– I am often asked questions regarding 4G vs the new 5G network, says our IoT Director Andre Lillebakk. – In this article I share some reflections from my point of view. Hope it is useful and that it hopefully gives some answers!
Most mobile operators and media praise 5G and its future, and with good reason! The 5th generation of the mobile network provides new dimensions for speed over mobile technology, impressive response time and extremely low latency.
Verizon launched their 5G rollout in April in select cities in the United States, and at New Year’s they celebrate the launch of the new ultra broadband network in 50 cities. Since August 2018, Telstra has activated 5G in 10 of the major cities in Australia and is planning 25 more cities by the summer of 2020. Vodafone has already activated 5G in the UK, Spain and Italy and will roll out New Zealand at the turn of the year 2019/2020. In Norway 5G has been available since March 2020. In the coming years, international research and innovation in 5G will focus on evaluating 5G.
However, the 5G network is praised for its major improvements and new performance for the mobile network, but the impact this will have on IoT devices is not so clear.
4G VS 5G Network
In theory, 5G networks will offer up to 20 times the speed we currently experience on 4G. Data speeds up to 1GB per second are realistic. This is perfect for streaming HD video, gaming and other data intensive services. IoT devices use a modest amount of data and will not benefit from the new speeds in 5G.
Typical 4G networks use frequencies below 6GHz, where some 5G networks can utilize frequency ranges between 30 and 300GHz. Increasing the frequency reduces the wavelength of the signal.
Advantages of 5G frequency range:
• Higher data rates.
• The antenna can be shorter which means smaller mobile phones and routers etc.
• Supports a higher density of mobile devices in the same network. For example, in cities with very many mobile devices per base station.
This comes with some drawbacks:
• Higher frequencies do not extend as far. 5G networks will require much denser base stations (mobile cells) to provide the same coverage area as 4G.
• 5G signals are more directional to support higher density with mobile devices. In comparison, a 4G tower will beam data in all directions which means a larger coverage area.
But what about 4G LTE CAT-M1 and NB-IoT?
The fact is that these networks are also relatively new giving us some answers around the choice of IoT carrier.
Typical requirements for an IoT application are:
Send small (often only a few bytes per transmission), relatively rare packets of data. Although a device broadcasts its position or measured value every 30 seconds, it uses significantly less data than, for example, streaming Netflix in HD.
• Low power consumption – Battery-powered devices must last quite a long time, preferably between 5 and 10 years. It is not acceptable for an IoT sensor to have to change the battery frequently or charge every other day like your mobile phone!
• Low cost to be able to realize the rollout of millions of units.
• Large coverage area – Units are being rolled out in the vast country and not just in the cities!
Our 4G Cat-M1 and NB-IoT devices are designed especially with this in mind.
Unless you are working with virtual reality, autonomous vehicles or the like where real-time services are a requirement, then the speeds that 5G can potentially give you are not something most IoT applications will need.
4G provides longer range, which is significantly more important in a typical tracking or sensor application. In any case, in the coming years, 5G will not provide a large enough coverage area outside urban areas to be useful for IoT. In comparison with the 4G CAT-M1 and NB-IoT networks which already have a huge coverage area in Norway. And finally, 4G modems of the types we use in our products are significantly simpler and have a significantly lower cost that allows us to deliver a product with a much faster ROI.
Both 4G CAT-M1 / NB-IoT and 5G networks are the latest hot trend. But it is important to keep the focus on costs /benefits and what you need in your application. 5G is well suited for many and opens up completely new possibilities in digitization, but for typical IoT applications that we see today, 5G is probably not the right choice. Feel free to contact us for a no strings discussion.
This article was originally published on LinkedIn
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