What does 5G mean in the world of IoT?

We can't ignore it. 5G is hot, especially in the media. If we take the press releases of early April 2020 into account, we quickly get to the news from Proximus, which is launching the first (public) 5G network. There are a lot of stories circulating about 5G, but I have the feeling that not everyone is happy with what 5G is.

In this post I tried to provide a structured overview of the technological characteristics and of course made the link with the wonderful world of IoT. Let's go! 😉

What is 5G?

All right, let's start by explaining what that magic 5G is. I think Wikipedia gives a good description:

5G (fully 5th generation mobile network or 5th generation wireless systems) is a telecommunications standard. It is characterised by a higher data throughput and less delay (latency) compared to its predecessor 4G

Clear! Also some "fluffy-marketing info":

According to specialists, 5G is 100 to 200 times faster than the 4G network. The current network has a speed of 100 megabits (Mbps) per second. 5G can handle speeds of up to 20,000 Mbps. So gigantic speeds. With 5G, you can download a high-resolution movie in just a few seconds. With 4G, it takes about 10 minutes. There is also much less latency or delay on the 5G network. 5G has a delay of 4 milliseconds, at 4G it is four times greater. 5G makes remote operations possible. So we know that it is a successor of 4G that is faster and has less latency.

You will undoubtedly have already heard about the "licenses" for 5G, the story of Citymesh, the fact that our government (or the lack of it) has not distributed the licenses until today but that BIPT will do this itself, the fact that proximus already says to roll out 5G in different cities anyway (in the form of 5G-light).

So it all revolves around certain radio frequencies that allow 5G to be fully exploited. The 5G band contains the frequencies between 3.4GhZ and 3.8 GhZ. At the moment only Citymesh has these frequencies in its hands. For example, they are already setting up private networks for, among others, Brussels Airport. They are also doing so on band 42.

In addition to the radio frequencies on which 5G (will) work, we also have the effective implementation. So the description of the "standard". 5G is described and rolled out in different "waves". Below is a clear presentation of Sierra Wireless:

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What we see today are mainly applications on the Wave 2: Consumer cellular. This is the update that Proximus has developed for mobile users who want a little more speed and bandwidth. Please note that Proximus does this on the 4G band.

Be sure to check out the blog post of Dailybitshe also wrote some interesting things about it!

Private vs public

The strength of 5G is that it can also be offered as a private network. It's cost effective and easy to implement (although that's relative of course, installing a LoRaWAN gateway seems a bit easier and is also allowed since LoRaWAN works on an unlicensed radio band 😉Ik would personally invoke the gentlemen of Citymesh if I wanted to set up a private 5G network).

A private 5G network consists of a few micro-towers that ensure that a specific geographical area gets private coverage, so that you have control but perhaps even more importantly also have the security in your own hands.

In contrast to the public network, access is thus limited. You must have "access" to the network. In general, setting up a private network can therefore guarantee the 5G services and increase security. It seems to me that private 5G is a real game changer.

Is 5G interesting for IoT?

The focus of 5G is now mainly on cellular. There are several applications where IoT and cellular obviously go hand in hand. Just think of (powered) Edge gateways on which information from machines and different sensors can be aggregated. 5G can already offer a lot of added value if we think of the bandwidth and latency advantages. Several "5G routers/modems/gateways" are already starting to emerge on the market. We ourselves at Aptus are doing some tests with Fibocom (the FM150-AE to be precise. It supports band 42 = mid range 3.5GHz and can be used on a.o. private 5G networks in Flanders. Ps: the 5G modems are really not cheap 🤑)

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For your information, the manufacturers already using 5G modems are Telit, Ublox, SimCom, Quectel, Sierra Wireless and Fibocom. Do count that the modem prices are in the "hundreds of Euros" region instead of existing 4G modems that only cost a few tens of Euros.

Important fact: in the above we talk about powered IoT applications. But an IoT device can of course also be something else like a low power sensor that only transmits small amounts of data once in a while.

It is intended that the 5G standard will serve for several years, so the "standard" already anticipates applications that are not really "production ready" yet, such as self-propelled cars that communicate with other vehicles and highway infrastructure in real time.

To meet all these different requirements, 5G covers three categories of communication, each focusing on a different set of use cases. In general, these use cases concern (1) low-power IoT applications being Massive, Machine-Type Communication (mMTC), (2) industrial and critical IoT applications, referred to as Ultra-Reliable, Low Latency Communications (URLLC) and (3) the consumer market, referred to as Enhanced Mobile Broadband (eMBB). The table below explains it.

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In the world of IoT, the first 2 are the most interesting.

Massive, Machine-Type Communication (mMTC)

This is the evolution of Low-Power Wide-Area (LPWA) LTE technologies that we now know for applications that are inexpensive, require low amperage and have high coverage in high-density operating environments. 5G addresses this use case with evolved versions of the two LPWA standards most commonly used today in the IoT world, LTE-M (which works within the LTE band) and NB-IoT (which works at 200 kHz). These technologies are designed for low power consumption devices such as sensors. Typical for use in smart cities, smart logistics, smart metering and other applications.

Ultra-Reliable, Low Latency Communications (URLLC)

It is mainly designed for the Industrial IoT (IIoT) or Industry 4.0, with applications such as factory automation, smart city 2.0 and in the future autonomous vehicles. Ultra-low latency and very high reliability are important topics in this field. Fast transfers and high mobility are also important. 5G tackles this category mainly with the recently defined radio access technology, called New Radio or NR. The 5G NR technology supports that very high bandwidth in the millimeter Wave (mmWave) spectrum. This is one of the biggest differences between 4G and 5G. But to be clear, it is not yet available to date 😉.

5G and Low-power IoT

5G for mMTC (for low-power devices) is based on improvements to the current LTE-M and NB-IoT (which we at Aptus use for High-Five and other projects) and promises to increase coverage, device density and battery life. We are talking about Wave 3 which is expected in late 2020, early 2021.

Coverage

5G is expected to provide a coverage of more than 164 dB Maximum Coupling Loss (MCL), so transmissions will go further and reach their target sooner when they pass through concrete walls or travel underground.

Device density

5G promises more capacity, with support for as many as a million devices or more per square kilometer. The ability to support more devices comes from a variety of features, including scheduling flexibility, improved multiplexing of frequency distribution, higher order modulation (64 QAM) and support for an earlier data transmission schedule.

Battery life

5G will also bring improvements in current consumption, so applications with low energy consumption require even less energy to operate. Energy saving features, such as a new synchronization signal, an alarm signal, and a system change warning flag, lighten the power load and help extend battery life to more than 15 years in the field.

All these 5G mMTC features will be available in future firmware versions, so today's already implemented LTE-M and NB-IoT hardware is future proof for 5G 🎉.

LTE Release 15

LTE Release 15 is marketed as 5G and retains backwards compatibility. Although the 4G LTE specification supports high-speed devices, which may even exceed the 5G requirement of 20 Gbps, it has not been commercialised.

LTE Release 15 also adds some features, such as increased mobility (500 km/h), higher reliability (99.999%) and lower network power (80% sleep). LTE Release 15 also expands the range, making it possible to develop new applications including inter-device interactions (D2D), vehicle-to-everything (V2X) communications, high-precision positioning and improved operation in unlicensed spectrum (LAA).

Summarized

As you can read in this post there is quite a bit of 5G and IoT in the "pipeline" (🤷♀️). Both for low-power devices and devices that need an ultra-fast reliable network. But it's not for today, that much is certain. What you can do is make use of Proximus' 5G Light network or in a B2B context you can opt for a private network from Citymesh, for example.

Now, after reading this blog post, should you have something like: interesting, I want to know more about 5G or I'm looking for a party that can support a possible 5G project? Look no further. We at Aptus will be happy to help you! 💪