Imagine a world where car accidents are a thing of the past; where chronic health conditions like diabetes are managed 24/7 without blood sugar highs and lows; where smart homes unlock doors with a face scan, and then automatically adjust lighting and temperature and even order groceries for delivery before you run out of milk.
We are on the brink of an exciting leap in innovation that is changing the very fabric of our society. 5G and IoT technology is more than just a new generation of wireless technology. It represents a fundamental change in the mobile ecosystem, unleashing a powerful combination of extraordinary speed, expanded bandwidth, low latency, and increased power efficiency that is driving billions more connections in the next five years and changing our world.
According to the GSMA, 5G connections are expected to grow from 10 million at the end of 2019 to 1,8 billion by 2025 – and we’re well on the way to reaching that. In June 2020, the Global Mobile Suppliers Association (GSA) identified 81 Mobile Network Operators (MNOs) in 42 countries who had launched 5G commercial services and more than 385 MNOs in 125 countries were investing in 5G development.
How did we get here?
How 5G came about
The first iteration of wireless technology, 1G, cut the cord for voice calls, ushering in a new age of mobility. When 2G emerged, supporting voice and data, machine-to-machine communications (M2M) enabled simple solutions such as telematics, remote monitoring and control, and more.
When 3G evolved, web browsing greatly expanded possibilities for the IoT and invention took off. Along came higher-speed data and video streaming with 4G, along with the advent of cloud computing. This unleashed a tidal wave of imagination and innovation that demanded higher bandwidth, greater capacity, stronger security, and continuous connectivity with lower latency.
What does 5G mean for IoT?
It’s a game-changer. 5G is enabling faster, more stable, and more secure connectivity that’s advancing everything from self-driving vehicles, to smart grids for renewable energy, to AI-enabled robots on factory floors. It’s unleashing a massive IoT ecosystem where networks can serve billions of connected devices, with the right trade-offs between speed, latency, and cost.
5G got its start when the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) identified minimum recommendations for a new technology that was further defined and standardised by the 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP). Thales has taken a leadership role in getting 5G off the ground.
Here comes 5G IoT
From 5G SIMs to Cinterion IoT modules, IoT gateways, and modem cards, Thales is delivering a broad portfolio of 5G solutions that connect and secure next-generation devices and IoT projects, offering seamless migration to emerging networks and features.
How does 5G work?
There is much that sets 5G apart from anything the world has seen before, but arguably the most significant is the way in which it leverages the frequency spectrum. To deliver ultra-high speeds with the lowest latencies, 5G networks leverage radio frequencies in two groups:
• FR1, also called the sub-6 GHz range.
• FR2, between 24 and 52 GHz.
The latter, FR2, extends into the extremely high frequency (EHF) range, also known as millimetre wave (mmWave) frequency. mmWave is defined as the band of spectrum between 30 GHz and 300 GHz.
Instead of viewing 5G as a single technology, an important thing to understand is there are three different ‘flavours’ of 5G, each meeting different wireless technology needs:
mMTC (massive Machine Type Communication), or energy-efficient 5G, adopts existing LTE LPWAN. Its main focus is on efficiently transmitting low data volumes intermittently to and from devices that require wide area coverage and long battery life. With more efficiency comes greater network capacity to serve a huge number of devices. It’s ideal for applications like smart meters and track-and-trace apps that are not dependent on speed and latency but on optimal power efficiency. NB-IoT and LTE-M technologies are part of the mMTC category of 5G.
Ultra-Reliable Low Latency Communication, or mission-critical 5G, is a new class of performance communication that focuses on the highest possible reliability while enabling latency as low as 1 ms. 5G adds system additions that enable new levels of low latency and ultra reliability. It’s ideal for applications like first responders, emergency services, and autonomous vehicles including drones and industrial IoT, and robotics.
eMBB (enhanced Mobile Broadband), or high-speed 5G, is predominantly high data throughput that leverages new, greater bandwidth 5G spectrum. It delivers super-fast speeds, high system capacity and better spectral efficiency for applications not only in the consumer space like smartphones, augmented and virtual reality, but also for industrial routers and gateways requiring best-in-class connectivity.
The Thales 5G coverage umbrella (Figure 1) shows how 5G qualities relate to low-, mid-, and high-band 5G. In general, 5G networks leverage higher spectrum bandwidth than its predecessors, helping to achieve industry-leading speed, reliability, and efficiency while enabling next-generation system additions. Rich, heavy data packets travel at lightning-fast speeds with imperceptible network latency.
One drawback to shorter wavelength/higher frequency is that signals are subject to high propagation loss and absorption, and they don’t travel as far and are blocked by things in their path. This means smaller and more frequent cells are needed to support the network. On the plus side, small cells support extremely high data rates.
Is NB-IoT a 5G technology?
Yes. Narrowband IoT (NB-IoT) fits into the mMTC flavour of 5G technology. It is a fast-growing 3GPP cellular technology standard introduced in Release 13 that addresses the LPWAN (Low Power Wide Area Network) requirements of the IoT. It was standardised and classified as a 5G technology by 3GPP in 2016 and it will continue evolving with the 5G specification.
It is a leading LPWAN technology to power a wide range of industrial IoT devices including smart parking, utilities, wearables, and industrial solutions.
Is LTE-M a 5G technology?
Yes, LTE-M is an LPWAN technology embraced by 5G; and like NB-IoT, it fits into the mMTC 5G category.
The 3GPP agreed that both NB-IoT and LTE-M technologies will continue evolving as part of the 5G specifications, meaning that these technologies can be used today and continue for a decade or more as part of the 5G evolution.
NB-IoT and LTE-M will coexist with other 5G standards, and they will become the LPWAN of the 5G spectrum.
Is 5G really all that different?
It sure is! 5G is a revolution in wireless technology that many have likened to the leap to light speed. 5G is faster, it has lower latency, it’s more power-efficient, and it can support many more devices per node than any other technology to date.
How fast is 5G?
It’s fast - really fast.
There’s a lot of hype about 5G speeds and bandwidth, and with very good reason. It delivers up to 10 gigabits per second (Gbps), supporting instant access to services and applications. That’s ten times faster than 4G, which delivers up to 1 Gbps. To put that in perspective, it takes about 13 minutes to download a movie using wired DSL at 50 Mbps and about 39 seconds leveraging top 4G speeds at 1 Gbps.
A 5G-enabled smartphone or laptop can download the same movie in just four seconds. Now that’s fast!
What is 5G low latency?
In addition to speed, another advantage of 5G is significantly reduced latency. Latency is the lag time or short delay between the time it takes a signal to travel from one point to another, for instance, from a sensor in your car to the brakes.
5G networks deliver latency of 1-10 milliseconds, compared to 50 ms delivered by 4G. To put this into a real-world context, it takes 10 ms for an image seen by the human eye to be processed by the brain. In a sense, then, 5G can be faster than the human brain.
Low latency is vital for applications like self-driving vehicles, AI-assisted smart medical devices, and manufacturing robots where milliseconds can literally eliminate disaster.
How does 5G achieve greater efficiency?
When the ITU defined 5G requirements, a major consideration was eliminating energy leakage and strengthening sustainability. Traditional mobile networks use only 15-20 percent of their overall power consumption on actual data traffic. The rest is lost through inefficiencies.
Overall power design for 5G networks had to be reimagined and tightened along with the entire ecosystem architecture. For instance, new power management schemes and reduced latency allow base stations to sleep longer. What’s more, higher throughput and reduced latency mean less time for data transmission and more time for sleep. And more sleep always means less energy burn. Besides, data packets are compressed to improve network traffic efficiency, and transmit and receive traffic is controlled and optimised to extend rest time and reduce overall energy consumption.
Other improvements, including multiple-input multiple-output (MIMO) antennas, small cells, spectrum efficiency, Virtual Network Functions (VNFs), Software Defined Networks (SDNs), and network slicing, achieve efficiencies that reduce overall energy consumption, making 5G 90% more efficient than its predecessor, 4G.
What is network slicing, and how is it expanding IoT?
To optimise performance, 5G’s unique architecture and software-defined network allow carriers to dedicate bandwidth for specific use cases that share common needs. In other words, they can create multiple virtual networks offering capabilities and functionality tailored to a particular service or customer group – over a common network infrastructure.
This makes it easier and most cost-effective to deliver services and meet SLAs for customers delivering autonomous driving and simple track-and-trace solutions. Virtual networks (5G slicing) are tailored to specific IoT use cases.
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