Connected appliances and devices have transformed the way we live. From smartphones to autonomous vehicles, 5G-enabled technology has captured the public imagination and dominated media headlines. A global 5G race is on, with 138 trials recorded and 10 “digital cross-border corridors” established in Europe alone.
Despite the challenges of moving a global IoT industry already fragmented by competing and incompatible technologies, 2019 has already been a year of hope. It is no longer an isolated topic but is viewed from a ‘connected sensor’ perspective in 5G, bringing the broader implications of network management, use cases, and financial considerations together. EE launched the first commercial 5G network in the UK this year, swiftly followed by Vodafone and others. Elsewhere in the 5G ecosystem, the first wave of 5G-enabled smartphones has already hit the market.
Today’s network connectivity is already strained by the growing popularity of applications and demand for bandwidth to accommodate them. The explosion of cutting-edge IoT devices and sensors means network service providers must build scalable and adaptable networks to meet demand – a challenge for solutions reliant on publicly shared spectrums. 5G is fundamentally different from previous generations and requires a radical update to almost every aspect of current 2G/3G/4G networks. Changing from 20-30kg antennas, to new ‘active’ antennas in the 80-100kg range is one indication of the enormity of the project ahead.
Network service providers will also be challenged to join disparate networks into a seamless service. These networks will eventually be exhausted unless a new spectrum is made available or new access methods are mandated. IoT also amplifies the threat of network downtime, as we’ve unfortunately seen in the UK recently. Providers must prepare their networks to cope with the unique challenges that variable capacity and demand present.
5G infrastructure upgrade projects are expensive and highly technical, forcing operators to follow a strict demand strategy. Today, over 99% of UK premises have mobile coverage, and the areas without, are mostly rural and sparsely populated. Due to the remote locations of these final 1%, it may not be economical for mobile operators to provide a service without some central intervention.
This year we have seen the restricted 5G rollout to major urban centres where population size and demand require rapid connectivity and capacity. The associated cost and time of this extension means that widespread 5G connectivity is likely to happen in the next several years, rather than months.
There are several practicalities to consider when considering whether 2019 will be a year of change for 5G and IoT, namely the financial implications and how to make the rollout and devices commercially viable. Rollout costs across Europe could reach an estimated £400 billion.
Despite the buzz around 5G enabled devices, only a third of consumers are willing to pay for 5G service (PwC). The industry must consider ways to introduce the technology at a reasonable cost for consumers, whilst making a secure return on investment on the infrastructure costs. This will not happen overnight, and operators must translate the benefits of 5G to consumers to justify the costs. IoT devices need the network to be available wherever they are, and they won’t be available to the mass consumer market in time for Christmas.
5G is happening, and we have already seen significant industry successes. Yet despite this, the benefits of new services and devices will not be seen across Europe for some time. There is a growing recognition that 5G needs more time to perfect before a comprehensive rollout. In the meantime, we can eagerly anticipate the rollout of the full next generation core network that will introduce more seamless services and increased availability of 5G-ready spectrum that promises ultra-reliable low latency and multi-gigabit-per-second speeds.
Interested in hearing industry leaders discuss subjects like this? Attend the IoT Tech Expo World Series events with upcoming shows in Silicon Valley, London, and Amsterdam.