Get ready for more than incremental change from 5G – a global network evolution promising ultra-fast data speeds, massive connectivity, high reliability and innovative coverage options. If there were ever a mobile infrastructure tailor-made for the Internet of Things (IoT), 5G is it.

1G gave us voice, 2G welcomed messaging, 3G brought data and 4G boosted speed. Now, the fifth generation of wireless systems (5G) promises to provide the crucial support and stability needed in today’s digitally connected world.

In order to accommodate the 75 billion connected devices estimated to be live by 2025 we need 5G. Not only will it strengthen IoT, but will also kick-start a more viable Internet of Everything (IoE) – the bigger picture for IoT incorporating people, processes, data and, of course, things.

Tech specs of the 5G evolution

The International Telecommunication Union (ITU), a United Nations body leading the standardisation and deployment of 5G, has released a number of key performance capabilities for 5G technology. While these targets continue to change in response to new research, they currently include:

  • A maximum achievable data rate between 10Gbps – 20Gbps under ideal conditions (think highly resourced industrial networks)
  • ‘Everyday’ data rate of 1Gbps in high density areas and 100Mbps for wide-area coverage
  • 1 millisecond latency, i.e. the delay before a transfer of data begins (this is a biggie!)
  • Capacity for 1 million connections per square kilometre
  • Network mobility of up to 500kmph (think high-speed trains)
  • 90% reduction in network energy use
  • 99.999% reliability for mission critical communications (think disaster response services)

Considering the technical possibilities of 5G, the Federal Government commented that the network evolution will provide the “underlying architecture that will enable the next wave of productivity and innovation” in Australia.

Perks of ultra-low latency

The higher latency of previous generations has made the reliable delivery of data in instantaneous “real time” difficult to achieve. For human-to-human communications such as instant messaging, higher latency mostly results in an inconvenient ‘lag’. But for machine-to-machine communications, such as those required by driverless car technology and e-health applications, latency represents the gap between a vision and a sustainable, workable and safe reality. The ultra-low latency of 5G will introduce the reliability and connection-ubiquity needed to fuel an IoT landscape as fit for industry and infrastructure as it is for consumers.

An IoT revolution

So far, many IoT devices have had to compromise their performance in order to make best use of existing wireless networks. The developments to be introduced under 5G will support a wireless network with a natively industrial scope. Through a technique known as ‘network slicing’, operators of 5G will be able to split their networks into ‘slices’ that cater for the distinct requirements of different users and use cases.

For example, an operator may decide to allocate a large slice of its network to mobile broadband needs on a low-latency, high speed basis. At the same time, it could equip another slice with ultra-low latency and failsafe precautions for ‘mission critical’ IoT, such as that required to connect smart cars (both driven and driverless) to urban traffic control grids. Likewise, a low-consumption slice could provide dedicated support for the array of IoT sensors used in regional agribusiness.

5G also helps bring the stock-image depiction of IoT as one massively interconnected mega-network into reality. Unlike 4G which requires all data to be sent to and from the network, 5G enables increased device-to-device communications without the use of a base station (i.e. between a driverless car and a smart traffic light). These ‘mesh networks’ only require one device within a ‘mesh’ to be connected to the network and use dynamic coordination to find the optimal data route without human intervention.

Is Australia ready?

If current productivity estimates are anything to go by, Australia could see an increase of up to $2000 in GDP per capita attributable to 5G advancements in the next decade. So how long until 5G will grace our shores? In a recent working paper, the Department of Communications and the Arts estimated a rollout from major telecommunications providers to commence from 2019. The Australian government has been diligent in preparing for this and in supporting a revised regulatory environment. In addition to managing a new frequency spectrum for 5G, the government has also encouraged sector regulators to ensure their policies are compatible ahead of time.

With 5G still a few years from widespread deployment, its eventual ‘final form’ may vary somewhat from current technical predictions. But regardless of this it is clear that 5G is a network evolution set to accelerate the internet of things into a true internet of everything.

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