Does IoT require 5G connectivity?

Posted on 26 Nov 2020 by The Manufacturer

With IoT conversations moving from distant possibility to real-world certainty, Pertti Kujala explores how necessary 5G is to industrial implementations.

The number of IoT installations is growing rapidly, with management consulting firm McKinsey estimating that the yearly economic impact will exceed $11bn by 2025.

One major theme seems to be emerging in the IoT discussion – the importance of 5G. In the conversations I have, it’s often assumed that we at Haltian must use 5G connectivity due to the size and variety of IoT installations we’ve completed.

5G networks are being built all over the world with increasing speed as they enable the transmission of massive amounts of data with very little latency. Among other use cases, these massive amounts of data and short latencies enable factories to transfer their new equipment and machinery to fully wireless remote control.

This is particularly useful when the solutions require a completely real-time data stream to the control centre and back. Industrial robots, forklifts and process machines and the wireless remote control of the process using wide-scale IoT data are just some of the use cases currently being deployed. Being able to transmit massive amounts of data in next to no time enables artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning applications to be used much more extensively.

However, when we talk about IoT and the number of devices being connected, the real growth will happen thanks to the rising popularity of small sensor devices. There’s even talk of ‘sensor dust’, meaning that the number of devices transmitting data to the cloud will grow exponentially.

Building digital systems Wireless sensor devices enable us to make our existing tools and machinery digital. In this way, easyto-use IoT solutions make all elements of the process a part of the factory’s digital system.

In these use cases, the requirements for IoT are opposite to the massive data transferring speeds of 5G. The amount of data in IoT solutions with wireless sensor devices is comparatively small and reporting intervals of a few minutes or longer are perfectly adequate.

Furthermore, small data volumes and longer reporting intervals mean very long use for wireless, battery-operated devices.

That means that 2G networks are more than enough for IoT solutions. While we at Haltian use 5G, 2G connectivity is used in the majority of our IoT installations.

2G is a robust and widely used network which will be available in many countries for a long time. Instead of full scale 5G, the 5G sub-connectivities, NB-IoT and LTE Cat M1 are used in countries where 2G isn’t available or will soon be scaled down.

This article first appeared in the November issue of The Manufacturer.

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Use case determines the required connectivity

I believe questions about 5G arise because people believe they first need to deeply understand 5G or IoT connectivity before they can begin thinking about using IoT.

I would recommend following what’s going on in the IoT space and keeping abreast of the new solutions being developed and how they’re being deployed, but I would also recommend changing your focus from the technology to the potential benefits it provides.

IoT investments Internet of Things - image courtesy of Depositphotos
image courtesy of Depositphotos

Start by thinking about the bottlenecks in your operations and identify what information would be useful to you.

As McKinsey quite rightly states in their article Ten trends shaping the Internet of Things business landscape; “IoT is a business opportunity, not just a tech opportunity.”

In my experience, the challenge in most solutions isn’t the lack of 5G, nor the data speed or the technology in general. The biggest challenges lie in improving your business models, developing your own processes and selling the endeavour inside the company while integrating the solution into your operations.

My advice for anyone worrying about starting their IoT project is that moving forward with your IoT solution is more important than focusing on thinking about 5G, or what is the most useful case for your business.

When you start with one use case, you’ll learn a lot and better understand what kind of information is useful to you. Let your IoT provider worry about the technology and bringing the required connectivity, 5G or something else, as and when needed.

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