Adam Cousin, Technical Business Development Manager, Telit Communications
5G provides a host of sophisticated new capabilities to enable applications that wouldn’t be practical or even possible with 4G, 3G or 2G. To leverage those features, IoT systems designers need to understand the three essential components of the 5G New Radio (NR) architecture:
• Enhanced Mobile Broadband (eMBB) is ideal for bandwidth-intensive fixed and mobile applications. One example is providing gigabit broadband to homes where fibre or copper is expensive, too slow or simply unavailable, such as low population density areas.
• Massive machine-type communications (mMTC) are not bandwidth or latency-critical, but they form the backbone of the majority of IoT deployments like smart city or smart agriculture. The mMTC infrastructure is designed to support millions of IoT sensor systems within a given location. By comparison, a 4G network could support thousands or maybe tens of thousands in the same area.
• Ultra-reliable low-latency communication (URLLC) is designed to meet extreme quality-of-service (QoS) requirements for mission-critical applications. One example is single-digit-millisecond latency for telemedicine, Industry 4.0 and autonomous vehicles.
In the short term, availability is the biggest challenge to leveraging 5G’s capabilities. Although many operators have begun deploying 5G, they still have years to go before it matches their 4G coverage. More standards work must also be completed and then implemented. For example, 3GPP Release 16 (Rel 16), which enables URLLC, is still a year or two away from real-world deployments.
Many of 5G’s capabilities have their foundation in LTE. One example is mMTC, whose framework is found in 3GPP Rel 13 by way of NB-IoT and LTE-M. Even before the advancement of 5G, the LTE infrastructure around these LPWA technologies continues to evolve. Device makers who want to leverage applications against these services at scale must cater for the probability of infield firmware updates and device management driven by the advancements of the global MNOs, mitigate against costly truck rolls, and offer continued quality of service throughout this Long-Term Evolution.
Looking forward, NR-Light is also a relevant element of 5G that the standardisation community is working on for the upcoming 3GPP Rel 17. NR-Light aims to fulfil the needs of low- and mid-tier devices, which are more demanding than NB-IoT and LTE-M but less demanding than URLLC or eMBB and served by LTE, paving the way for extensive adoption of 5G in all use cases.
IoT systems developers must also navigate 5G’s additional complexity. For example, the way 5G can accommodate the magnitude of connected devices is by its expanded RF capabilities compared to 4G, 3G and 2G – from 600 MHz to the uncharted territory of millimetre wave (mmWave) – and often multiple bands simultaneously, such as interband carrier aggregation to achieve multi-gigabit downlinks. Systems designers need to consider how their band choices affect in-building coverage, antenna design, mobile operator certification and more.
Many IoT applications will continue to use LTE because it’s a mature technology that’s widely available. Still, even LTE has its share of complexity that can trip up systems designers accustomed to 2G and 3G. That’s why they often turn to a partner to help navigate their 4G and 5G options.
Take secure connection to cloud services, for example, which is critical for many IoT applications. NB-IoT, a technology limited in throughput with potentially long latency, does not work well with legacy heavyweight TCP protocols demanded by enterprise cloud services, such as SSL or HTTPS.
Telit enables those IoT applications to enjoy NB-IoT’s benefits, overcoming such obstacles using secure lightweight protocols. Telit modems are born with the ability to connect securely using Lightweight M2M (LwM2M) to Telit’s intermediary OneEdge™ cloud and device management service, which includes API connectors to push application data directly to third-party enterprise cloud service providers.
Besides helping customers sidestep the signalling limitations of new technologies, Telit also provides connectivity (SIM cards) and device management tools, such as over-the-air firmware campaigns. This comprehensive portfolio, provided by a single company, enables IoT solution providers to avoid the problems – including finger-pointing – that arise when they cobble together multi-vendor systems independently. That’s critical for being successful in the brave new world of 5G.