What Will 5G Replace?
5G’s lightning-fast speeds, ultralow latency and seriously expanded millimeter wave (mmWave) bandwidth promise to replace current technologies like Wi-Fi, broadband and cable in the coming years, especially when it comes to IoT networks. 5G will enable a revolution in connectivity and, as CNET reports, “could unlock the full capabilities of other hot trends in technology, offering a boost to self-driving cars, drones, virtual reality and the internet of things.”
That promise may be slower in coming than many would like, especially in less densely populated areas, and it will require a significant investment in infrastructure. 2019 was touted as the year 5G becomes a commercially viable technology. However, as providers like Verizon debut 5G networks in major cities in the U.S., their ability to expand mmWave coverage to suburban and rural areas is limited. Potential users of 5G IoT networks, like city governments, manufacturers and healthcare providers, will need time to devise sound implementation strategies.
The question of whether or when 5G will replace current services entirely is not easily answered, given the challenges of building enough infrastructure and keeping 5G networks secure. This is also impacted by the fact that most 5G networks in North America are using the non-standalone (NSA) version of 5G, which depends on the underlying LTE core network. The providers plan to move to standalone (SA) 5G in the future, but that will take time. For the time being, a platform of advanced 4G LTE, Wi-Fi and edge processing solutions supports the rapid expansion of connected mobile and IoT devices. These technologies will continue to operate alongside emerging 5G networks, which are not expected to be fully deployed at least until around 2025, according to the consulting firm Bloor.
The Role of Current Networking Standards in a 5G World
While 5G could eventually replace the current cellular standard in IoT development, other technologies like Ethernet may continue to exist alongside new 5G networks, as Andy Egan, Director at Adept IT, predicts. “Servers, in particular,” says Egan, “I expect to remain using ethernet far into the foreseeable future.” Laurie Patton, a former executive director of Internet Austria, puts it this way: “the view of most experts is that 5G mobile will become a complementary product, and not a replacement for fixed broadband services.”
In the gradual transition to full 5G, other services will advance to meet the demands of expanding IoT. The complementarity of 5G and existing technologies may extend to Wi-Fi as well. Wi-Fi especially remains a robust wireless solution for a variety of use cases. Despite the revolutionary potential of 5G and the buzz surrounding its application, the Wi-Fi market is expected to grow 21.2 percent by 2022. Wi-Fi and cellular will continue complementing each other. Each one will become more specialized for cases they excel in addressing and dropping the compromises in which each has been forced into working. The quality and performance of Wi-Fi will improve, and with innovations like Ericsson and Cisco’s “Evolved WiFi Networks (EWN),” 5G may not entirely replace it for some time, if ever.
5G Innovation in IoT
When it comes to many IoT uses cases like smart manufacturing, several companies have already begun looking at what 5G can replace or start anew. Audi, BMW and Volkswagen have proposed replacing their Wi-Fi and Ethernet networks with 5G, for example. 5G will surpass these services in some critical ways that make it a far better option for many types of IoT uses, especially those requiring fast mobility, ultralow latency, as in manufacturing, autonomous vehicles and healthcare. Those willing and able to invest in infrastructure will be poised to reap the transformative benefits of a 5G IoT ecosystem. Transitioning from NSA 5G to fully independent SA 5G will further unleash the full power of 5G features.
The challenges of scaling 5G infrastructure for massive IoT are several. They go beyond 3GPP’s meticulous standards adoption efforts to ensure interoperability and include creating plans for short- and long-term growth, solutions for reducing power consumption, and extending the capacity of backhaul networks and the internet to handle the massive amounts of data transmitted over 5G networks. Until 5G meets these challenges, we will likely continue seeing LTE, Wi-Fi, Ethernet and other networking technologies advancing alongside. The overall transition will take some time, and it seems that IoT deployments will move toward full 5G while also utilizing advances in current wireless and wired networking technologies.