Enterprise IoT has a 5G problem. Massive IoT is failing
Most companies agree that enterprise IoT is a powerful enabler for accelerating digital transformation. Whether you are looking to improve your factory's production capacity, optimize the use of lighting in your buildings, implement end-to-end tracking of goods or create urban support systems – from transportation and health to energy consumption – adopting IoT technology will bring huge benefits to businesses and society.
In this context, 5G is being touted as the technology that will enable almost sci-fi-like use cases and endless IoT possibilities that older generations of wireless technology cannot support. But can 5G really deliver on all its promises, and is it really for everyone? I don’t think so.
The limitations of cellular 5G IoT
Whether a technology can be widely implemented and useful for all types of businesses, largely depends on its suitability and affordability. Unless cellular 5G for IoT overcomes its current shortcomings, it is not going to become reality for all.
There are a few reasons why the cellular operators will not be the ones solving the equation of truly scalable, massive 5G IoT solutions for enterprises of all types: Cellular 5G requires a lot of infrastructure, tower sites and antennas, physical SIMs and equipment. It also requires you to pay for a subscription to get access to use the technology and to the spectrum at which it operates. In addition, it shifts the control of where your data is stored and processed away from you to the operators.
While the promises about what 5G can bring to the IoT landscape have multiplied, the practical solutions have become increasingly complex. As more businesses are investing and becoming dependent on IoT solutions, the more relevant the complexity of planning and management is. What might start off as a seemingly simple implementation could quickly turn into a complex and costly investment.
An infrastructure-less and autonomous 5G
Three main obstacles stand in the way for extracting value from the current cellular-based 5G for IoT: Time, complexity, and cost. But this does not have to be the case. Enterprises need and deserve reliable, performing IoT solutions that are affordable even to smaller companies. These solutions can be based on infrastructure-less and autonomous technology that can be set up by anyone, anywhere in no time and at a fraction of the cost compared to other technologies.
The future of 5G must offer the ability to scale without any middlemen. Devices must be able to communicate directly with each other without the need for an operator, service, or additional network infrastructure. When a network can build itself with a direct device to device communication, then each routing device is like a mini base station. Combining this decentralized approach with a license free and global spectrum means making these benefits mainstream for real.
This also means that newcomers to IoT can skip the complexity experienced by first movers and develop and deploy their solutions faster and at lower cost. In essence, paving the way for a true evolution of IoT, beyond cellular solutions.
The new non-cellular 5G standard (currently called DECT-2020 NR), using a global dedicated 1.9GHz, license free and global spectrum, opens a huge dwell of use cases. The autonomous operation which optimizes link selection together with modern radio access performance enables a low power device operation which will play an important role in many IoT applications especially for the use cases assuming battery operation.
Megatrends create new affordability demands for data
Over the last ten years, for the first time in history, more than half of the world’s population have been living in cities (World Economic Forum). The urbanization trend will only intensify. This means for example that building monitoring and future energy production will be essential role for managing the urbanization processes and create the right conditions for smart cities and sustainable energy production and consumption. A smarter way of using IoT can help the energy sector transform from a centralized supply chain to a smarter, de-centralized and optimized system.
Built for industry use
The future is sooner than you think. The winner in the race to create the new and improved 5G will be the company that helps anyone to digitalize their business with a reliable and affordable solution. In our case the networks just become more robust the bigger they are. No matter how many devices – even millions – you connect, it always works
Looking back at the evolution of cellular 5G it is clear that it was not built for industrial purposes. It was built for mobile phones and consumer use cases. Using one infrastructure to support another use is not a necessity but a result of an evolution that can now evolve beyond its original purposes.
When data delivery is handled autonomously – removing a layer of human action and complex planning – it means businesses and operations can instead directly harvest existing data and produce better decision making and ultimately better efficiency.
The cellular operators will not challenge themselves. But if they are not addressing the issues of time, complexity and costs, in a sensible manner for industry use, the challenge for industry IoT is solved by others. IoT does not need antenna towers and masts, telecom does.