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Evolution or Revolution? Figuring Out the Impact of 5G on Your IoT Strategy


Gus Vos

Gus Vos

Chief Engineer, Technology Standards

If you’re at all involved in your company’s IoT strategy, chances are you’re already trying to learn more about how 5G might create new opportunities for you to enhance your current IoT applications or develop entirely new applications. Yet, despite all the discussion around 5G, you might be finding it difficult to cut through the noise and determine exactly what is new with 5G and how you can and should incorporate these changes into your company’s IoT digital transformation strategy.

As Sierra Wireless explains in detail in its new white paper, 5G for Enhanced Mobile Broadband is Here, the key thing to understand about 5G is that it’s really about two sets of changes to global wireless connectivity – one set mostly incremental and evolutionary, the other set more groundbreaking and disruptive. By understanding these two sets of changes, and how various types of IoT applications and digital services can take advantage of them, you’ll be better able to start planning for its arrival. 

Many of 5G’s Changes Are Incremental and Evolutionary
As part of your IoT digital transformation strategy, are you using or developing smart grid, industrial asset management, supply-chain asset tracking, wearables or similar low bandwidth IoT applications? In other words, IoT applications that do not require high data transfer speeds but do require relatively low-cost devices, low amounts of power, as well as broad coverage in remote rural area and dense urban environments? If that’s the case, you’re probably currently using or planning to use Low Power Wide Area (LPWA) technologies on existing 4G networks, such as LTE-M or NB-IoT, for these applications. 

If so, 5G will enhance these LPWA technologies in incremental but important ways. For example, transmissions will go farther and be better able to pass through cement walls, applications will be able to connect to more devices and low power applications will require even less power to run, further extending the life of LPWA device batteries. These new capabilities will not even require new device hardware – current LTE-M and NB-IoT devices will be able to take advantage of these enhanced capabilities with a simple firmware upgrade. This makes it easy for you to update your existing LPWA applications to take advantage of these new capabilities when they become available.

Because 5G’s incremental improvements to LPWA can be smoothly integrated into LPWA IoT applications, there is no need to wait for 5G if you are thinking of developing these types of applications. You can build and deploy LPWA IoT applications now and upgrade them later to take advantage of the enhancements that will come with 5G.

What is Really Groundbreaking and Disruptive In 5G is 5G NR
When people talk about how 5G is going to break ground or be truly disruptive, they are likely talking about the roll-out of 5G New Radio (NR), which will make possible a whole new set of wireless cellular services and applications. One of the main reasons for this is that 5G NR supports use of a different part of the wireless spectrum than existing cellular wireless networks, called mmWave, which operates between 20 and 300 GHz. It is this different spectrum that allows 5G to leapfrog not only current 4G wireless cellular data rates, but even deliver data rates many times higher than an average cable and fiber broadband connection. 

In addition to much higher data rates, 5G NR’s support for mmWave, along with its use of improved new core network, called 5G Core Network, also enables other truly disruptive wireless cellular connectivity capabilities, including ultra-high reliability, very low latency and very fast handoffs. This means that 5G NR goes beyond just enabling cellular wireless broadband services for home or businesses that can replace cable and fiber broadband services. It will also support completely new types fixed and mobile applications, including factory automation, autonomous vehicles, and augmented reality applications. 

5G NR has been designed to work in conjunction with existing 4G networks, allowing companies to begin benefiting from 5G’s speed, latency and other improvements even as the new network’s infrastructure is being deployed. However, companies hoping to fully take full advantage of these new capabilities will need to wait till this infrastructure more fully built out. And even though widespread trials of 5G NR are already occurring, and service is expected to expand rapidly in 2019, it will still be several years before 5G NR networks have the same level of ubiquity we now see with 4G networks.

What this means is that, if you think new types of fixed broadband, factory automation, autonomous vehicle or other digital services that require very high data rates, ultra-high reliability, very low latency and very fast handoffs might play an important role in your digital transformation strategy, now is the perfect time to begin updating your strategy with plans to develop these applications. By the time it takes to roll-out all the new infrastructure required for extensive 5G NR coverage, you will be in a position to be among the first to launch these types of applications. 

The Next Step in Your 5G IoT Strategy
The arrival of 5G involves two major sets of changes to wireless cellular connectivity. One set of changes will support mostly incremental and evolutionary improvements to smart grid, asset tracking and other IoT applications that use LPWA network technologies. The other set of changes, enabled by 5G NR’s use of mmWave spectrum and deployment of a new 5G Core Network, will support the development of groundbreaking superfast broadband services, as well as innovative and factory automation, autonomous driving and other applications that require very high data rates, ultra-high reliability, very low latency and very fast handoffs.

However, the transition from the final standardization of 5G to full commercialization will take some time, with 5G NR technologies just beginning to be launched in 2019, and many of 5G’s incremental improvements not scheduled to take place till 2020 at the earliest. That makes now the perfect time to learn more about these and other 5G changes. 

As you move forward in learning more about 5G and integrating it into your IoT strategy, Start with Sierra. Our 25 years’ experience in being first to market on previous cellular generations and involvement in the 3GPP standards body uniquely positions us to help you understand how 5G can help you reimagine your future in a connected world. By providing technology standard recommendations for 5G, such as what we’ve laid out in our new white paper 5G for IoT? You’re Just in Time, and building out a portfolio of device-to-cloud IoT solutions, trust us to help you transition to 5G.

In addition, if you are attending MWC Barcelona 2019, stop by to meet us! We’re showcasing the industry’s first 5G mechanical module sample, which will enable 5G deployments on mobile computing, networking and IoT platforms worldwide. Sierra Wireless’ 5G module will also be on display in the GSMA Innovation City, Hall 4, Stand 4A30, as well as in partner stands, including AT&T Hall 4, Stand 4D40, Nokia Hall 3, Stand 3A10 and Qualcomm Hall 3, 3E10.

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