Massive IoT and 5G: What’s Next for Large-Scale Cellular IoT
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Massive IoT vs. Critical IoT
The transition from simple machine-to-machine (M2M) connections to the complex Internet of Things (IoT) is well underway, as improving LTE IoT and developing 5G networks enable faster connections and higher bitrates. As the industry progresses, experts believe that most use cases will fall into one of two categories: critical IoT and massive IoT.
Critical IoT applications are those that require extremely low latency and high uptime. These bandwidth-hungry use cases include telemedicine, applications designed for first responders and factory automation — in short, anything requiring a constant, data-rich connection to function.
Massive IoT is, as the name suggests, a category driven by scale rather than speed. Massive IoT deployments can include anywhere from hundreds to billions of connected devices. The primary goal for these applications is to efficiently transmit and consume small amounts of data from vast numbers of devices.
IoT verticals that might fall under the “massive” designation include connected wearables, cars, homes, cities and industrial IoT. The transition to massive IoT, according to Gartner Inc., could see a rise from 8.4 billion connected devices in 2017 to 21 billion by 2020, with close to $2 trillion in worldwide profits generated by new networks. However, just as IoT networks will grow to a massive size, so will the technical challenges of building and maintaining them with scalable, secure, low-cost, low-power, low-latency components.
Massive IoT Connectivity: From LPWANs to 5G
Massive IoT applications are a natural fit for low-power wide-area networks (LPWANs). These cellular networks match the requirements of a massive IoT deployment and, crucially, can be built on existing advanced LTE technologies like LTE-Machine (LTE-M) and Narrowband IoT (NB-IoT), which utilize narrower bandwidths optimized for low throughput applications. Low data flows currently work with 2G, 3G and 4G cellular networks and will only further the capabilities of 5G when it becomes widely available.
As the number of connected devices roughly doubles by 2022, LTE-Advanced, Advanced Pro and 5G promise to meet the demands of both massive IoT and mobile broadband. LPWANs built in concert with emerging 5G tech promise fairly low-latency, energy-efficient solutions using cell technology that better handles high connection density. Since 5G can also operate at the highest bandwidths (mmWave) between 24 and 100 GHz, it will favor this spectrum for high-speed traffic, enabling massive IoT to grow unencumbered in the lower end of the frequency spectrum.
The International Data Corporation (IDC) estimates that by 2021, 5G’s enabling of IoT will drive spending of $1.2 billion on connectivity. Much of that investment will be directed toward edge computing, advanced analytics and AI to scale up to massive IoT networks with the infrastructure to connect autonomous vehicles, smart buildings, smart cities and the Industrial Internet (or Industry 4.0). Infrastructure investment in the billions is expected to generate up to $12 trillion in goods and services and create revolutionary technologies in both the private and public sectors.
The Challenges of Massive IoT
There are several challenges for massive IoT that must be met along the way to full 5G. Those include, as mentioned, equipping advanced LTE networks with the enhanced capabilities needed to handle increasing amounts of data traffic as millions more mobile and IoT devices come online in the coming years. Another significant challenge is meeting concerns over data security, which, as David Roe writes at CMS Wire, “will take precedence over innovation if confidence in IoT is to grow and severe security issues are to be avoided.” The industry will see more aggressive attacks as bad actors test the vulnerabilities of growing IoT networks. Consequently, data security will become a competitive differentiator for customers looking to invest in IoT solutions.
AI, machine learning and edge computing will play significant roles in massive IoT security design, as will stronger authentication methods. Overall, companies investing in massive IoT must firm up security protocols in advance of 5G connectivity to maintain consumer confidence and prevent unauthorized access. Massive IoT promises new developments in connectivity for all sorts of “things” around the world; however, it will also seriously strain network reliability and security. As more use cases arise, so will more opportunities for invasion of privacy, physical harm and theft of data, medical records and identity.