2019 is the year of 5G connectivity – or at least the year that carriers begin the process of rolling out the new wireless standard. AT&T, Verizon, and Sprint have all projected 5G to start arriving in the first half of the year, though pragmatists should expect that broad availability of the new standard is still a year or more away. Each of the carriers is expecting to establish 5G in just a handful of cities this year.
That isn’t keeping device manufacturers and service providers from jumping onto the 5G bandwagon. Samsung’s new Galaxy S10 and Galaxy Fold (the phone that unfurls into a tablet), for example, are both 5G-ready, along with competing models from LG, Huawei, Motorola, ZTE, and more.
And for good reason. We’re all anxious for the arrival of 5G since it represents such a significant improvement over the existing state of the art. 4G began to roll out back in 2009 (the year Microsoft introduced Bing and the online news of the year was the Colorado balloon boy hoax), and offers a peak speed of about 10 Mbps. In comparison, 5G is poised to deliver a peak speed of as much as 20 Gbps (with an average speed closer to 10 Gbps). And the network latency is reported to be below 1 ms – compared to no fewer than 30 ms for 4G. Add in improved power efficiency, and that adds up to a faster, more responsive, and efficient network.
All those improvements are just around the corner, but many pundits assert that mobile consumer devices actually don’t need it; 4G serves most consumer applications just fine. Instead, the real benefits of 5G may be in new wireless applications that don’t quite exist yet as well as replacing traditionally wired networks with the flexibility of wireless. And that means the Internet of Things may be poised for a lot of changes.
In fact, 5G’s low latency will eventually support a host of new protocols, including ones called Machine Type Communications (mMTC) and Ultra-Reliable and Low Latency Communications (URLLC). These facets of the 5G standard will allow a wireless IoT to make all sorts of new inroads. In manufacturing, for example, 5G will allow robotic assembly lines to feature completely wireless command and control systems – low latency will allow for instantaneous responses to sensor data and algorithmic commands, and low power requirements combined with wireless charging technology means systems will never go offline because batteries need to be changed.
On the road, the future holds a number of potential applications, from 5G-enabled self-driving cars to high-bandwidth information systems serving human occupants in cars. The lower latency of 5G allows for the possibility of cars directly exchanging data with traffic control systems built into the streets. And while it’s not practical to send high-quality video over 4G to a mobile fleet today, 5G can handle that kind of data with ease – with the caveat that the vehicles need to stay within 5G coverage areas.
And 5G will affect other industries as well. In health care, medical devices will increasingly become IoT-enabled as 5G supports the bandwidth needed to send and receive the data they handle. And that means that remote locations and rural health care facilities will increasingly benefit from the same advantages as top-tier medical facilities in large metropolitan cities. Retail, already a strong player in the IoT, will only get better, as 5G enables better digital signage, augmented reality experiences, and exchanging ever-more video and images with the 5G phones in the hands of consumers.
Of course, all of these implementations are some time in the future; it will take time not just for 5G to reach ubiquity – or at least be broadly deployed – but it will also take time for devices and chipsets that are optimized for 5G to reach the market. In the meantime, 4G devices will continue to find roles in industry, especially for use cases that don’t rely on bandwidth or latency – like the majority of sensors and actuators already deployed today.
Steve Latham is the founder and CEO of Banyan Hills Technologies, an Internet of Things company that provides businesses with end-to-end IoT services. Banyan has a team of experts focused on IoT and is committed to understanding how businesses can leverage the Internet of Things to reduce costs and grow profitably. Banyan’s cloud-based IoT platform, Canopy, is a comprehensive software solution for operators of self-service devices and on-premise control systems.
Latham is a forward-thinking technology entrepreneur with a history of building successful hardware and software solutions for Fortune 500 companies and small private firms. With more than 20 years of experience in the field of technology, he is regarded as an expert in cloud-based software and the Internet of Things.