Which use cases will drive 5G?Freelance Technology Writer & Communicator, Gary Eastwood provides a commentary on the key drivers of 5G, as well as the vertical applications that will be enabled.
There are now more mobile phone subscriptions in the world then there are people, and smartphone sales are expected to double between now and 2021. At the same time, mobile data consumption continues its exponential rise – according to Ericsson’s Mobility Report in November 2015, mobile data traffic increased 65 per cent between 3Q14 and 3Q15. The same report predicts that 70 per cent of all mobile data traffic will be video by 2021.
But it is not just the sheer volume of traffic that is expected to push existing mobile networks to their technical limits within the next five years, it’s also the types of traffic. For example, Ericsson forecasts that by 2021, out of 28 billion connected devices, 15 billion of them will be machine-to-machine (M2M) connections within the Internet of Things (IoT).
As a result, tomorrow’s mobile networks will need to carry a huge volume of data, and a wide variety of traffic types, each with unique requirements in terms of bandwidth, reliability and latency.
While today’s LTE networks have a lot of life left in them yet, there is an overall consensus that a generational transformation in network technology and architecture will be required, probably before 2020, in order to meet the ever-growing demand not just for mobile bandwidth, but also to enable the M2M communications of smart cities, autonomous cars, the IoT, and many other applications.
The answer to these challenges is, of course, 5G. While standards are still being formalised the requirements of a 5G network are already becoming clear. 5G will need to provide speeds of 10–50 Gbps, as well as five times lower latencies than today’s 4G networks – around 1 millisecond – to ensure that the radio interface does not become the network bottleneck. Nokia describes 5G as a ‘zero-latency, gigabit experience’.
Lower latency is in fact equally as important as higher speeds in order to enable lag-free video conferencing, zero delay operations for critical mobile health applications, broadcast streaming of multi-view 4K media, real-time multiplayer gaming, interactive applications, and many more applications. Consumer quality of experience (QoE) will of course be another essential requirement if operators are to recoup their investments in 5G.
These challenges require a rethink in how networks are designed, managed and optimized – 5G networks will need to offer thousands of times the capacity of today’s LTE networks, higher data rates, lower latency, mass connectivity, and greater energy efficiency. So what will drive the obvious investment that will be required to design and build 5G networks?
The drivers of 5G
IoT requirements are seen by many as already being one of the key drivers of 5G development – 5G will not enable IoT, rather IoT will drive 5G investment.
The requirement for greater mobile broadband will continue to be the key driver for 5G evolution. However, it goes well beyond the need to meet increasing internet access requirements. 5G will be driven by new applications and services, such as 4K video, interactive media and entertainment, remote working and real-time collaboration, audio and video streaming, virtual reality, and other applications yet to be developed.
However, one of the main reasons that 5G networks will require a technical step-change is the requirement for M2M communications to, from and between the billions of connected devices in the IoT, each of which will place different demands on the network. IoT requirements are therefore seen by many as already being one of the key drivers of 5G development – 5G will not enable IoT, rather IoT will drive 5G investment.
“The programmability of future 5G networks will support the extreme variation in technical parameters IoT will create, and the expanding number of IoT use cases will justify 5G spending. But IoT is a concept being put into practice today,” explains Stephanie Gibbons, Senior Analyst at Technology Business Research.
She adds: “There are a multitude of IoT service and solution providers, and while uncertainty remains regarding the best ways to monetize, the opportunities to generate revenue via IoT applications can be realized much sooner than the future revenue opportunities 5G will present.”
Use cases expected to drive 5G investments include smart cities, home automation, transportation, robotics, smart utilities, e-health and many more, with each requiring different levels of bandwidth, reliability and latency.
There are two main types of IoT application: massive machine-type communication (M-MTC) and mission critical, both with different needs. Whereby M-MTC is characterised by billions of low-cost devices and sensors, and may be handled sufficiently by 4G – until a certain number of connected devices is reached at least, mission critical applications, such as remote surgery or connected cars, require much more stringent requirements in terms of high-reliability and low latency.
At the same time, today’s mobile networks are based on the premise of high-speed downloads, however 5G networks require the opposite. M2M communications need high-speed uploads in order to manage and action a dense plethora of devices and sensors in real time. In that respect, 5G will need to be flexible and programmable, and will rely on capabilities such as software-defined networking (SDN).
While today’s networks will still handle many applications, 5G will be needed for mobile applications such as autonomous cars, real-time vehicle fleet management, smart utilities, and e-health monitoring, to name just a few.
The challenge for 5G is that each application will have different requirements. For example, smart city and automotive applications will need to support low-latency, high-reliability M2M communications, while the requirements for applications such as smart homes, utilities or health and fitness may not be as stringent.
Other drivers of 5G include cloud storage and applications for both personal and business use cases. Again, cloud connectivity requires high-speed uploads, as well as downloads, which can only be enabled by 5G networks. The trends towards remote working, mobility and real-time business collaboration represent further drivers for 5G.
There is not a week goes by without another vehicle manufacturer, or tech company, announcing that it is trialling autonomous cars. Importantly, the low latency of 5G networks will be necessary to implement the safety systems and real-time vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-infrastructure communications required by driverless cars – a capability that LTE cannot meet.
The opportunities in terms of business models and revenue offered by evolving trends, such as mobile video, smart cities and the IoT, are greater than those offered by the arrival of the internet itself.
At the same time, in-car infotainment demands will also drive 5G adoption, providing for example the ability to stream videos to children sat in the back seat, or accurate real-time route or vehicle status information. Insurance companies, meanwhile, will be able to track driver behaviour and vehicle condition, using the information to increase premiums for erratic drivers or consistent speeders, or to schedule servicing and maintenance.
Source: Technology Business Research
5G will also enable vehicle fleet management – for example, smart buses that avoid traffic congestion or follow ‘smart routes’ by missing out bus stops that have no passengers waiting.
Freight management too could become faster and more energy-efficient through the real-time management capabilities afforded by 5G networks, saving both time and money, and meeting environmental / pollution obligations.
Smart cities, of course, will be embedded with a dense array of wireless sensors that will enable a plethora of services and applications, from environmental services and pollution monitoring, to security surveillance, traffic management and smart parking. Again, the role of the 5G network will be to meet the differing requirements of the multitude of connected devices and sensors.
The health sector could be revolutionised by 5G. Less stringent requirements, such as on-going heart monitoring at home through wearables, might be met by existing networks. However, in critical or emergency situations, then 5G might enable emergency telemedicine from distant specialists to emergency care providers at the scene.
Other vertical applications include factory automation, with some manufacturers such as GE and Mitsubishi already investing in industrial IoT platforms that are highly reliable and secure. Smart utilities and grids, meanwhile, will create an intelligent and energy efficient way in which to meet fluctuating power demands, and better manage power distribution from renewable energy sources, for example.
“5G goes beyond supporting mobile broadband – it will be used in new ways in media, smart vehicles, automation and remote control of critical machines and for the massive number of devices connected in the Internet of Things. There’s not going to be one for each individual industry, but one network will have to address the needs of many,” says Bo Hagerman, Principal Researcher in the Radio Access Technology area at Ericsson Research.
Given the limits that today’s most advanced LTE networks are set to reach in the coming years, 5G is a necessary transformational requirement. The investment required will be huge. However, the opportunities in terms of business models and revenue offered by evolving trends, such as mobile video, smart cities and the IoT, are greater than those offered by the arrival of the internet itself.