While everyone loves to talk about 5G – and the core infrastructure for this new paradigm, now under assembly – the building blocks of the IoT continue to multiply.
Television sets come with Internet connections, cameras boast built-in Wi-Fi, and most of us in Hong Kong have at least one router for our multiple devices. On an industrial scale, sensors monitor everything from running shoes to automobiles – with appropriate degrees of complexity. The IoT is under construction, and it's an integral part of 5G.
That's why (as editor-in-chief John Tanner blogged) a common thread among keynote speeches at Mobile World Congress Shanghai 2015 this week was the need for the sector to embrace collaboration.
"We need cross-sector collaboration to drive innovation," said China Mobile chairman Xi Guohua in a keynote at MWC Shanghai. "It's a very long [value] chain, and we can’t cover every single point in that chain."
Unpacking IoT numbers
This week also saw a flurry of press releases announcing MoUs for strategic partnerships, new base-stations, and more strategic partnerships. It seems that vendors and operators are aligning – hopefully with overall collaboration in mind. We'll see how it shakes out.
Also evolving: the guesstimates of the IoT's scope. Until recently, the "50 billion devices by 2020" figure was tossed into most media IoT stories without much inspection. But ZTE EVP and CTO Zhao Xianming gave more granular information during his keynote at an analyst summit preceding MWC Shanghai 2015.
Zhao said the IoT would comprise 100 billion "smart connections" by 2020, 50 billion of which would be sensors and wireless connections (found in 30 million automobiles among other places). He added that people would own an average five "smart devices" each, and that 40% of homes will have over 10 smart connections.
We can be sure that Zhao's estimates are well informed, but predicting tech specifics five years in advance isn't an exact science. Sensors of varying sophistication are now in homes and automobiles – generating cost-savings (and creating new security issues, but that's another blog-topic).
The nascent technology is finally started to find traction as deals are struck. For starters, Japan's SoftBank has signed separate research collaboration agreements with both Huawei and ZTE covering the development of stopgap technologies on the road towards 5G.
But 5G's spectrum issues are perennial. In a keynote speech at MWC Shanghai, Huawei deputy chairman and rotating CEO Ken Hu called for additional spectrum resources for 5G development."We hope that key stakeholders can reach a consensus on 5G spectrum as soon as possible and identify at least 500 MHz of sub-6 GHz spectrum for 5G," said Hu, "thus creating the right conditions for 5G’s development globally."
Huawei said in a statement that it's committed to developing 5G standards before 2018, plans to launch the first 5G pilot network with its partners in 2018, improve the 5G industry chain, complete interoperability testing in 2019, and commercially launch 5G networks in 2020. Many feel that 5G's first "test flight" will happen during the 2018 Winter Olympics – sited in the Korean city of PyeongChang.
Riding "the skeleton"
One event at the Winter Olympics seems apt as yet another metaphor for 5G: the skeleton, described by Wikipedia as a "fast winter sliding sport in which a person rides a small sled down a frozen track while lying face down ... the rider experiences forces up to 5 g and reaches speeds over 130 km/h." The '5 g' refers to the gravitational force endured by the skeleton-sled rider, and coincidentally recalls the telco technology – and its related perils.
A skeleton-sledder must face directly into the cold wind while hurtling down an icy track – hoping his or her sled will ride true and fast. The pioneers of 5G also find themselves on a fast track under adverse conditions. Spectrum, infrastructure, partnerships with serious stakeholders (let's not forget that the Tokyo Olympics are set for 2020: everyone's favorite year-number)...those leaping headfirst into 5G should be lauded for their efforts.
The next few years will see the big boys maneuver for gold, silver and bronze. But let's not forget the real winner of the '5G Olympics': the users.