With the trials and recent launch in Korea of 5th Generation (5G) mobile services it’s a good time to review to what 5G and IoT brings and what it means can bring to a wide range of industries.
The first generation ‘1G’ analog cellular networks delivered capacity through innovations such as frequency reuse. 2G digital mobile took advantage of the ever-increasing capability of digital processing of GSMA and CDMA and gave us international cooperation on standards and frequency bands, roaming and limited data capability. 3G made mobile broadband a reality, and, with the release of the iPhone and smartphones, mobile data consumption exploded.
4G (Long Term Evolution – LTE) was a response to this massive surge in data traffic that accompanied the rapid growth of smartphone population. Whole new industries appeared to take advantage of this new technology, for example, app stores, ride-sharing, and room-sharing is now bigger than several top hotel brands!
The next wave of progress, 5G, is upon us. With each generation of mobile technology, the standards creators have been able to get better at writing specifications and address more use cases. Apart from 5G offering even more capacity, speed and latency improvements, the 5G network structure itself will allow whole new classes of service to be built using the mobile networks. This development has not happened in isolation – it’s the convergence of advances in cloud computing, software, radio technology, micro-electronics and raw processing power at every scale.
One new 5G feature, Network Slicing, offers interesting opportunities, of achieving quality of service (or SLAs) by dedicating various network elements to a particular application. For example, action replay broadcast service at a football stadium, a dedicated network slice could be allocated to distribute video to everyone who wants to see the winning goal without congestion. Similarly, a network slice could be used, say, to offer very reliable high capacity video links over the public mobile network to augment emergency services reacting to an incident.
Current networks are not optimized for certain common situations, for example critical infrastructure operations. High resolution vehicle tracking at an airport for safety and security requires constant updates, current networks may not have the signaling capacity – and compete for access with the passenger mobile traffic. A network slice dedicated for the various airport operational activities solves this. Fixed Wireless Access, an alternative to fixed lines is another important use case for 5G.
In parallel to 5G development, wireless Internet of Things (IoT) refers to a new generation of low-power, sometimes battery powered devices using advances in low power sensors, micro-controllers.
Used for monitoring various environmental parameters in both fixed and mobile installations, these devices can use existing mobile networks and later 5G networks with enhanced capability.
Apart from 5G offering even more capacity, speed and latency improvements, the 5G network structure itself will allow whole new classes of service to be built using the mobile networks
Designed with several years’ battery life for ‘deploy and forget’ applications or permanently powered, IoT sensors will be very useful in smart factory environments where production line monitoring (e.g. cameras, sensors) can be added to existing operations to improve efficiency, safety and quality monitoring.
The wide range of IoT devices, applications and services opens up many new possibilities, for example:
• health & safety monitoring workers on-site or remote locations
• food and medicine supply chain temperature monitoring
• building management system upgrades (no new wiring required)
• smart city - utility metering/ street light/parking/garbage bin monitoring
• traffic and footfall measurement for infrastructure/ advertising campaign planning
• tracking pallets/forklifts in a factory
• remote oil/water tank level monitoring
Many wireless IoT applications can be implemented using current 4G systems and as requirements grow the sensors can be added to fulfill the many monitoring or control needs. A huge array of different types of sensors are available to monitor everything imaginable from temperature, weight, distance, pressure, flow rate, presence, tilt, vibration, leaks – even the colour content of light and much more.
One example, most old (and new) buildings lack the wiring infrastructure to add simple monitoring functions –it is uneconomic to add conventional wiring as an afterthought for some monitoring function, say, emergency exit door open alarm. However, adding a wireless IoT sensor solution is a quick, easy solution for long term monitoring solutions or for difficult to access locations. Wireless IoT allows us to do things that are simply not feasible today.
Combining wireless IoT monitoring, the additional capacity of 5G with powerful Machine Learning (ML) algorithms and Artificial Intelligence (AI) hosted in cloud computing platforms we will see truly innovative applications performing predictive analytics for detecting tell-tale signs of faults before they happen or triggering action maintenance teams. This can be applied to monitoring and maintenance of lifts, escalators, vehicles and machinery of all sorts, industrial process operations, buildings, tunnels, bridges, roads, railways, utilities and so on, enabling new business opportunities.
IoT security risks are regularly overblown and should not be conflated with Secure Mobile IoT. Mobile networks are much more secure for having the Subscriber Identity Module (SIM) or new embedded ‘eSIM’ to securely identify and authenticate network endpoint users and encrypt data. Real security risks can be contained with proper design, common sense (like not hard-coding passwords) and appropriate operational protocols, these steps are detailed in the GSMA IoT Security Guidelines. Furthermore, the telecoms industry has long experience with managing vulnerable endpoints – that’s the definition of a phone. SIMs and IoT devices (or phones) can be securely linked together and monitored to restrict endpoint service activity from the mobile network, badly behaving devices and services can be blocked and blacklisted accordingly. With basic network security precautions, it simply won’t be possible for a hacked IoT water dispenser to gain access to the corporate network and download customer data or launch a denial of service attack on some distant website.
5G, IoT and corresponding technological advances we see today is the result of years of incremental advances in technology, software and communications standardization. Together they build 5G into a key foundation for Industry 4.0 across many verticals, strengthening the positive contribution to future economic growth and a better future.