The GSMA, an organization that tracks the number of mobile devices worldwide, estimates that there are over 5 billion mobile devices being used by people around the world. That’s quite a few connections and a lot of communication. This represents 93 percent CAGR (compound annual growth rate) since cell phones were introduced in the early ’80s – per year! By the end of 2017, Gartner, Inc. predicts a whopping 8.4 billion connected things will be in use all over the world, and this number is steadily climbing, with a projected 21 billion by the year 2020.
However, if you’ve ever attended a college football game along with 100,000 of your closest friends (in my case, The Ohio State University Buckeyes), you already know that our current 4G networks can’t handle that many people in such close proximity. This is one of the challenges that 5G sets out to address.
5G and Massive IoT, the term used to describe the world’s massive number of connected devices and sensors communicating with each other, will be enabled by this future network infrastructure and is the key driver in creating an interconnected world. Looking down the scope of the next few years, these connected things will bring about economic benefits globally with new services, safety, and overall levels of efficiency. Gartner forecasts that there could be close to US$2 trillion in economic profits worldwide delivered by the ecosystem created by this opportunity.
IoT services will stretch far and wide across industries and are continuing to be developed in unique and innovative ways all around us — claiming spots in retail, homes, the public sector, businesses, cities, healthcare, food and beverage, industrial, and manufacturing. Of course, that’s just a small portion of what we’ve imagined thus far!
In the coming years, 5G technology is expected to be scalable and energy efficient and will pioneer a massive IoT world. A lot of focus will be on extreme simplicity, low-power consumption, and pervasive coverage for reaching challenging locations, as well as increased connection density so that networks can handle the massive number of devices deployed for IoT applications.
Connection density is the ability to support the successful delivery of a message of a certain size within a certain time, even in space-constrained locations like a football stadium. 5G is expected to support up to 1 million connected devices per .38 square miles, compared to around 2,000 connected devices per .38 square miles with 4G.
As I described in an earlier blog, 5G – Better Broadband Bandwidth, 5G will be able to carry a lot more data and transfer it much faster than 4G LTE. But faster isn’t always better or even necessary in the IoT world, especially when it typically requires more electricity to power the end device. So 5G will introduce new device types, like Category M1 and narrow band (NB-IoT). This will enable lower-power, even battery-driven devices as well as far-reaching coverage for rural markets or penetration deep into buildings.
As 5G becomes more of a reality, we will start to see its full potential — for example possibly life-saving applications that require low latency, high reliability, and always-on availability. Latency-sensitive applications like fire-fighting robots could become a regular practice, saving precious lives. And you can just imagine some of the industrial or military applications 5G will enable. Some of these may sound far-fetched, but remember that only a decade ago, the first smartphone was introduced, and look how far that technology has come in just 10 short years.
5G will be more prolific than anything we’ve seen before. It will bring an increase in throughput (multi-gigabits per second) and incredibly low latency. Today, the entire mobile industry is working together to ensure that 5G can support Massive IoT. 3GPP, the global organization that was created to consolidate various standards for worldwide interoperability, has already completed specifications for early aspects of 5G, including Fixed Wireless Access and is working on standardization for 5G New Radio (NR), which will enable the mobility requirements of smartphones. These components lay the foundation to allow IoT to continue to grow even before 5G fully arrives.
An interconnected world is here, and 5G along with Massive IoT will propel us toward a truly hyper-connected world. But one thing that has also grown along the way is the huge attack surface for hackers that IoT creates. That will be the subject of our next blog, “Your Security Model is Broken, and 5G Will Kill It Dead.” So stay tuned…