IoT not seen as a near-term use case for 5G
by Martha DeGrasse 6/27/18
As U.S. wireless carriers race to roll out 5G, the internet of things is often mentioned as a primary use case for the new technology. Connected sensors that need to communicate in real-time will need the ultra-low latency promised by 5G.
But finding businesses that are ready to invest in 5G IoT will take time, and U.S. carriers don't appear to be counting on this market to pay off in the near term. AT&T, which recently announced plans to launch narrowband IoT next year, sees little immediate overlap between this business and its coming 5G network.
"Customers that are deploying NB-IoT between now and next year are doing so to cut cost," explained Shiraz Hasan, VP of IoT Solutions at AT&T. "So they are going to procure hardware that is not 5G capable. They won’t get to use 5G."
For the most part, these customers are connecting assets and equipment that need to send small packets of information to the network intermittently, not the real-time high-bandwidth communications enabled by 5G.
"5G use cases are network traffic intense and very bandwidth heavy," said Hasan. "Use cases for NB-IoT are on the complete opposite end of the spectrum."
"The hype surrounding 5G IoT devices isn't really justified," according to analyst Joe Madden of Mobile Experts. "Our forecast includes healthy adoption rates for 5G NR in specific industrial applications, but that means that 5G shipments will reach only about 1 million units per year over the next few years," Madden said.
Madden's forecast is conservative because his firm doesn't foresee huge numbers of industrial machines needing 5G. Machines that simply need to be monitored may require less expensive connectivity.
But AT&T projects that some low-cost equipment monitors will eventually add 5G in order to use high-bandwidth applications when sensors detect certain conditions, like a security breach.
"If you have an asset remotely installed for six years and it only needs to provide location and state once a day, NB-IoT is good," said Hasan. "But if that same asset also has a camera that would come on and send live video in HD if certain conditions are met, then that same asset would need 5G."
As 5G technology proves itself in the real world, companies are sure to find new ways to use it. Carriers are hopeful, especially T-Mobile and Sprint, which are linking 5G and IoT as they promote their planned merger.
"The big winners, the big innovation cycles are the people that are creating 5G applications, IoT uses, smart cities, smart agriculture, that need this network [that] isn't here yet," T-Mobile CEO John Legere told CNBC.
Whether or not 5G IoT takes off, cellular networks are expected to see huge increases in IoT traffic in the next few years. Most of that traffic will use the lower bandwidth technologies - NB-IoT and LTE Category M1 - as opposed to 5G.