The Long Road to 5G IoT Reality

The Internet of Things (IoT) is set to be one of the main aspects of the phase 2 release of 5G, which is due to be completed in December 2019 and finalized in March 2020. Modules that work on the new networks won’t be available for a couple of years after 2020.

This phase of IoT is also set to become the basis of the International Telecommunications Union's IMT-2020 standard for 5G and "massive IoT," which allows the coverage of a million devices per square kilometer (0.38 square miles). This is compared to the 60,680 devices that LPWA [low-power wide-area] LTE standards like narrowband IoT (NB-IoT) can support.

5G massive IoT isn't going to happen instantly as it will take until at least 2022 before compatible chips are ready for commercial deployments. "If you take 2020, it's going to be two plus years for it to start to arrive," says Steve Bell, senior analyst at Heavy Reading.

Even after the technology specification is finalized, the industrial testing of the modules used in IoT could take a couple of years to complete.

Similar issues recently occurred with the transition from 2G to 4G. The "first LTE-M and NB-IoT modules... were launched in early 2017," writes IHS Markit senior analyst Christian Kim. "But even though more than 50 mobile operators had announced network deployments of LTE-M, and NB-IoT, or both, market adoption of the two technologies has been slow."

Indeed, actual commercial applications have only just started to appear on the 4G NB-IoT network, first launched by T-Mobile in July 2017.

With 3GPP Release 16 5G, NB-IoT transmissions can be placed directly into a 5G NR radio frequency "as long as it's in the sub-6GHz [5G] bands," according to Heavy Reading's Bell. Currently, many early 5G networks, especially in the US, use high-band millimeter wave (28 GHz and 39 GHz) frequencies.

Because of the much lower coverage range of 5G millimeter bands (1,000 to 2,000 feet), those frequencies will not be represented. Operators like T-Mobile and AT&T, however, will be launching lower-band 5G networks in late 2019 and 2020. Sprint already has a few low-band 5G markets active in the US.

So as operators deliver nationwide 5G on lower frequencies in the coming years, companies will eventually be able to use 5G to run massive sensor and tracking networks.

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— Dan Jones, Mobile Editor, Light Reading

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