Get the latest best-practice stories, news and white papers straight to your mailbox
The selection process for the market's third operator was a spectacle to behold
If we learned anything at this year’s Mobile World Congress, it’s this: 5G, the Internet of Things and net neutrality are more deeply interconnected topics than you might have previously thought.
There was a surprising amount of talk about 5G this year, despite the fact that no one outside of Korea is going to see anything close to commercial 5G deployments until at least 2018. As such, most of the chatter about 5G focused on the obvious characteristics (i.e. it will be a lot faster and a lot more complex than 4G).
But there was also quite a bit of focus on the kinds of apps and services that 5G will enable – and most of them have to do with the IoT. In fact, a number of keynote speakers and companies made clear that 5G will be very much driven by the rise of the IoT. KT chief Chang-gyu Hwang described 5G’s role as “the foundation of the IoT era”.
At least some network vendors are taking that to heart in their product development plans as well. Nokia Networks, for example, isn’t treating IoT and 5G as separate technology projects to be developed separately, but sees them as tightly integrated.
“The IoT will have special requirements that we don’t see today, such as latency,” Nils Kleeman, Nokia’s head of Mobile Broadband APAC, told me just before MWC kicked off. “Today, latency for LTE is much better than what you had with 3G, but it’s much different when you talk about 20ms latency for smartphones today vs 1ms latency for automated cars or critical M2M communications, or when you talk about the need for lower battery consumption. So IoT will have these elements that will shape the requirements that 5G must fulfill.”
That doesn’t mean that we have to wait for 5G to see the IoT era kick in. As Caroline Gabriel of Rethink Research has pointed out, the 3GPP is already developing LTE-M for 4G-based M2M comms, while vendors are pushing Cat-1 as a viable low-power option:
While the 3GPP works on LTE Category 0 as the underpinning of LTE-M, for now the vendors have resurrected Cat-1, whose low data rates made it a Cinderella specification in the broadband world, but whose ultra-low power consumption now makes it a candidate for the cellular IoT. Sequans, Ericsson and Verizon announced that they had run tests on a commercial LTE network, delivering 10Mbps data rates at very low cost and power, and with peaceful coexistence with higher-powered LTE devices.
But in terms of supporting 1ms latency, and the sheer volume of devices to be connected, it’s going to take 5G for the IoT to really reach its potential, says Mark Newman, chief research officer of Ovum's telecom research business:
Network vendors and operators are increasingly seeing 5G as a network for IoT. As such, the key requirements for 5G are starting to focus more on the ability to support (hundreds of millions of) connections and offer millisecond latency rather than pure speed.
Delivering advanced IoT is also going to require serious bandwidth management. Which brings us to net neutrality.
Net neutrality was also at the top of the agenda for telco CEOs upset with the US FCC’s recent policy decision – even telcos who aren’t based in the US don’t want their own home regulators getting any bright ideas and following the FCC’s lead. And one repeatedly cited reason was the upcoming move to 5G and IoT.
Put simply: 5G will enable advanced IoT apps like driverless cars, real-time healthcare monitoring and drone delivery for e-commerce – and you can't do any of those things without prioritized bandwidth.
“We’re in favor of net neutrality, but what happens when you’re in a driverless car and someone listens to Spotify?” warned Deutsche Telekom CEO Tim Hoettges. “The car should be prioritized based on bandwidth needs. You need quality classes to enable the Internet of Things.”
FCC chairman Tom Wheeler was on deck to assure telcos they have nothing to fear from his net neutrality policy. I somehow suspect he wasn't entirely successful.