IoT hardware has entered the market in full force, yet the hardware’s connectivity at the moment is based on the presumption that internet connectivity is ubiquitous. And although it certainly has become more readily available in our online world, the Internet is far from readily accessible everywhere. More than ever, we rely on cellular connectivity. While in our homes and offices we enjoy lightning-fast speed fiber connectivity, once out in our car or on the streets, we enter the wireless connectivity world. A world that we take for granted and accept the compromise for latency and speed to remain connected.

By 2023, Ericsson predicts there will be over 3.5 billion cellular IoT devices on the market. Given the reliance on consistent internet connectivity, it is expected that these devices will not just be shackled to hardline Ethernet but deployable globally. This requires speed and low latency to bring cellular connectivity up to the standards of wired infrastructure. Additionally, the sheer number of IoT devices we are onboarding requires a different approach from the current fourth generation (4G) cellular network that allows data transmission from only 100,000 devices per square kilometer.

5G is the telecommunications answer to this dilemma. The 5G promise is more than just fast downloads and uploads. It’s about low latency and ubiquitous coverage supporting real-time operations.  Hence, the promise of 5G enabling technologies such as autonomous vehicles, remote health care, smart cities, and the like. Beyond this, 5G will enable remote control of more devices by transmitting data from 1 million devices per square kilometer! This will support the growing IoT space with no hardwired internet. A completely wireless infrastructure may replace even the fiber connectivity in homes or offices supporting similar bandwidth with simpler installation. The 5G promised connectivity will reach up to 4.5 gigabits per second (Gbps) compared to the 4G speeds that reach only 2 Gbps. While 4G taps long-range signals to send across crowded and low frequency radio waves of larger cell sites, 5G will tap small cell sites. The faster, short-range signals on untapped frequency bands will allow far greater amounts of data transmission.

IoT’s Full Potential with 5G

The fascinating and often overlooked facet of the 5G rollout is the sheer number of small cells required to make the network possible. In contrast to "macrocells" used in 4G networks, the term “small cells” only refers to physical size. The 5G small cells are relatively low power compared to their 4G counterparts. They are mounted on street poles or other shared infrastructure in a municipal environment unlike the traditional towers. Also, small cells require significantly more density compared to their microcell cousins, since their range is much more restricted.

This leads to a much more complex infrastructure for 5G providers. To compound this, unlike previous generations of wireless technologies, services that rely on 5G will demand uptime and redundancy not previously required.  Cisco predicts that data generated from the IoT will reach 850 zettabytes by 2021. From manufacturing floors with sensors to smartphones to autonomous vehicles to medical devices, 5G will amplify IoT capabilities. This automation level will require unprecedented infrastructure management. It will turn 5G into a super critical infrastructure requiring more responsive monitoring and management than used in 4G.

IoT platforms solve the complexity of extracting data from various types and sizes of 5G sites and consolidating it across geographically distributed footprints of thousands of sites. Operators using these platforms can manage the full breadth of an infrastructure in a single pane of glass approach without managing multiple monitoring software packages or being concerned with proprietary software. IoT platforms allow the flexibility to expand monitoring well beyond cellular equipment to access control, moisture detection, generator/battery monitoring, surveillance monitoring, and more.

Our Future IoT World

The IoT’s impact has transformed our connected world and digitized business facilities. Enterprises will depend ever more on the use of IoT devices for remote monitoring and predictive maintenance, reducing costly truck rolls while maintaining uptime. 

The full 5G rollout will magnify the capabilities of IoT use cases with greater bandwidth and reduced latency. The key, however, is to maintain operational integrity. With a multitude of subsystems and IoT sensing devices and other technologies within 5G, remote monitoring and management is a must.

Is 5G ready for prime time? It’s infrastructure reliability that will be the key component.