How will 5G and the Internet of Things play together?

Can 5G become an enabler and provide flexibile connectivity and core tools for IoT building blocks?

Rafael Cepeda, Senior Manager, InterDigital Europe

5G developments are well underway. In turn, definitions of spectrum, latency and bandwidth usage are continuously evolving to adapt to the next generation of mobile networks. However, while the technicalities involving 5G are promising, the ways in which 5G will impact our society is still very much a developing topic of discussion.

This brings back memories from past decades when I was asking myself if I would ever need a 1GB hard drive when I couldn’t even fill up my 100MB disk! Or when I heard that mobile phones were as small and functional as they could ever be. With more and more data being produced, stored and shared everywhere, the question now is: how will 5G and the Internet of Things (IoT) play together?

IoT will only be fully realized when data and information are free flowing between different systems, geographies, vendors and industries, resulting in highly integrated end-to-end solutions. The main distinction between what we experience today and this vision is that future solutions will only take applicable components, or IoT building blocks, from a complex ecosystem of data, services, platforms, vendors and industries in a fast, dynamic and efficient way to produce the information we need. This is when the IoT generation reaches maturity, and where 5G becomes a fundamental enabler, providing the much required flexibility in connectivity and the core tools needed to enable communication for standardized IoT building blocks.

Today in the transport sector, as an example, we have relatively good information for some locations on how we could go from A to B in a multi-modal fashion, involving walking, driving, public transportation, etc. As defined in InterDigital’s recent OneTRANSPORT multi-stakeholder initiative, this is complemented with real-time crowdsourcing information from others on our routes. The problem, however, starts when our situation changes without any warning. This might be due to planned roadwork or traffic jams, which could have been avoided even before starting the journey. This is not only a problem of how to consolidate more data into current solutions, but also of how the traffic systems from multiple cities can intercommunicate, how large amounts of relevant information are filtered and sourced dynamically, and how an automated system will make sense of dynamically changing network and data conditions on a seamless national or global basis.

Let’s imagine there is a planned event that requires road access from multiple and “incompatible” smart cities. The lack of integration will first affect traffic controllers in need of dynamically changing real-time reliable information, which is used to evaluate and recommend users and emergency services on their best possible route choices to “prevent” incidents and be prepared if they happen. Then, to put more stress into the communications network, multiple travelers might be using their smartphone devices to either find out more information about their ever-changing situation or for more trivial reasons, such as entertainment. For economic and practical reasons, the mobile networks of today are not designed to cope with these dynamic realities and cannot allocate large contingency resources where and when needed.

When we look at unplanned situations requiring the dynamic allocation of resources and fast reactions, it becomes easier to understand why a more adaptable infrastructure is required. The IoT generation, as it expands, will source more data and contextual value than ever before. For instance, indication of multiple cars slightly sliding on a road might be fed back to prevent future accidents. If this information is transferred and analyzed remotely in the context of a busy road and poor weather conditions, more connectivity resources can be dynamically allocated to the area to gather more data, leading to preventive measures being taken well in advance.

The 5G and IoT synergies are apparent. The flexibility from 5G networks will be required to handle all the diversity of data generated by the Internet of Things. In turn, the Internet of Things will manage the configuration of a 5G network to deliver the optimal and efficient configuration to serve end users needs whenever and wherever they arise.

About the Author

Dr. Rafael Cepeda, MBA MSc CEng SMIEEE FIET is leading the Societal Challenges and Internet of Things (IoT) activities for the InterDigital’s European office in London. He joined InterDigital from British Sky Broadcasting plc (BSkyB), where he led research on future wireless technologies. Before this position, he was a Principal Research Engineer at Toshiba Research Europe Ltd.

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