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Webinar “5G global outlook”: questions & answers

Recently we held a virtual webinar on 5G. Here, our experts respond to the additional questions we received after the live stream concluded.

Jelte Jansons, Product Manager Managed Connectivity
Jelte Jansons, Product Manager Managed Connectivity
September 11, 2020

What are the use cases you see that are enabled specifically by 5G?

We believe that 5G is an evolution of 4G, where many 4G use cases can be done much better, at a larger scale or more efficiently.

The 5G Mobile IoT technologies LTE-M and NB-IoT can enable devices with simpler and more efficient hardware that need a long battery life. This could for example be sensors in smart buildings, gas and electricity meters, but also asset tracking devices, for example, those used in shipping containers or tracking important post parcels. The longer battery life means that the devices can send information on their location for months or even years if needed. This also enables use cases like theft protection, adding a simple mobile device that sending reports for several years without the need for a power source.

Enhanced mobile broadband will enable much more mobile data at once. Initially it will be adopted in use cases that need considerably more data, for example, massive mobile video streaming.

During the COVID-19 lockdown we noticed that the Internet is crucial to keeping society connected. Remote working and remote studying have driven a large uptake in data usage. Remote working and studying have become the new normal for many of us. Before COVID-19 most people used connectivity for web surfing, using social media, watching a movie or video chatting with friends. Usage patterns have fundamentally changed due to remote working and remote studying. People have gotten used to interacting with many people simultaneously online. This means that connectivity is now used for multiple parallel video streams.

Remote working and studying has many benefits and we believe that massive multiple video streaming is here to stay, even after global lockdowns have been lifted ends. People will most likely continue to work and study remotely, combined with working from office and physically meeting colleagues.

During the height of COVID-19 the massive video streaming connectivity was mainly provided through WIFI and residential broadband, because people were locked down in their homes. Also, according to the Ericsson Mobile Report June 2020  mobile traffic has increased by 20 percent in some locations, especially in rural locations, during recent months. 4G technology is however not designed for massive multiple streaming. 4G works best when handling a single video stream, for example watching a movie, or talking to a single person. Video chatting with many people at the same time requires 5G.

While the COVID-19 lockdowns are slowly being lifted, people will become more mobile and they will continue to consume massive mobile streams, even on the go. People have gotten more dependent on connectivity and they will demand mobile connectivity that’s even better than residential broadband. For static locations, for example working from home or in office, WIFI and residential broadband will still be the dominant mode of connectivity, but 5G will bring the ability for remote working and studying to the mobile user, so that massive video streaming can work everywhere.

The mobile massive video streaming will not only be relevant for the consumer market, it will also enable industrial use cases such as remote maintenance. Repairing and servicing complex machinery requires expert knowledge. Before COVID-19 the people with this knowledge had to travel to these machines. This was not possible during COVID-19 which forced companies to consider remote maintenance of machinery. After this companies also realized savings on travelling cost and personal cost because remote working enables them to schedule their experts more efficiently. Experts with specialized knowledge can handle the maintenance from a central location, assisted by less trained local service personnel, robots and drones or a combination of both. This does not only add efficiencies, it reduces the risk of spreading infectious disease and is beneficial for the environment because travel is reduced. 5G enhanced mobile broadband is designed for use cases where people are interacting with IoT, or other people.

5G critical communication will enable use cases where IoT devices are interacting with each other. These IoT devices and machines will need a very fast and reliable connection that 5G can provide. Companies that want to use 5G critical communication also need to consider changes to how they use the cloud. A fast response from the cloud needs a decentralized approach, with smaller local networks and cloud instances. This also improves security, since companies can decide to depend less on a centralized cloud and can choose instead a private cloud.

Self-driving vehicles can benefit a lot from a faster response, reliability and improved security enabled by 5G. We believe that self-driving vehicles and robots on closed industrial locations will emerge first. Companies need to understand that for autonomous driving use cases, 5G is just a technology. There are many other aspects such as liability and legislation on consumer privacy that need attention as well.

5G will enable some new use cases, but often means that existing 4G use cases can be done at a larger scale or more efficiently. Many aspects of the 5G mobile edge can be done already with 4G LTE networks.

What are the differences between LTE-M & NB-IoT?

LTE-M and NB-IoT are both Mobile IoT technologies that are introduced during the 4G era and which will be available throughout the 5G life cycle. LTE-M is a simplified version of regular LTE, which provides most of the characteristics of normal 4G LTE including mobility and can handle software updates. NB-IoT is a completely new radio technology designed for maximum efficiency, but using it will require an architectural redesign of data communication. We published a detailed comparison between LTE-M and NB-IoT here.

Will 5G replace 4G?

We believe that 5G will not replace 4G, operators will use 4G LTE on lower radio frequencies and 5G new radio for higher frequencies. We expect that both 4G and 5G will be used together for years to come.

Nearly all operators with 5G deployments will offer a dual mode, where LTE is the primacy access points (anchor) for 5G devices. 5G devices could be redirected to a 5G New Radio network if needed, for example when high radio frequencies are needed for massive multiple video streaming or other use cases that need much data. The usage of both 4G and 5G is standardized by 3GPP as “5G- non-standalone”. We believe that operators will continue to operate in non-standalone mode for a long time. The lower frequencies used by 4G are already very efficient and using 5G new radio on these low frequencies will not add that much extra value.

4G and 5G working side by side

Will 5G replace WIFI?

No, 5G and WIFI technologies are used for different use cases. Like in the 4G era, WIFI networks will still be used for most connectivity in 5G, especially in the home and offices where mobility is not needed.

WIFI can be a good choice for companies that have the knowledge to run their own network and when devices only need connectivity inside one area, like a building or campus. WIFI networks are often decentralized networks with local security and operational management. Mobile technology like 5G provide nationwide and even global connectivity that is centrally managed. This reduces operational costs when many devices are connected and enables a better centralized security management. Mobile connectivity provides instant connectivity, which keeps devices connected through the life cycle.

Mobile technology like 5G can give companies a direct relationship to end users. There are many WIFI connected devices targeted to consumers, that provide companies a channel for new revenue through recurring sales and upsell. This WIFI connectivity relies on the competence and willingness of these consumers. Connecting an IoT device to WIFI is often not user friendly, will break when the WIFI networks change or insecure. Companies will miss out on the largest part of the market for connected consumers, because many do not take the effort to connect and keep connected. Only mobile IoT technology can instantly provide a secure connection that will continue work during the life cycle of the device.

Many consumers also struggle with WIFI at home due to the configuration and complexity of network equipment in their homes, such as routers or switches. For example, a WIFI network with multiple managed switches often suffers disturbances in connectivity. Like two captains on one ship, two managed switches mean trouble. The average end user will not understand this and perceive their WIFI devices to be less reliable compared to a mobile connection. The mobile connection provides instant connectivity.

5G will not replace WIFI, in the same way as 4G has not replaced WIFI. 5G will however continue to provide the best user experience through instant connectivity, has cost benefits for fleets of devices and a global connection, based on standardized technology existing roaming business models.

Can you please explain why better indoor coverage? Which frequencies are used? How about steel walls? How do we solve the indoor coverage in 5G as the spectrum is in higher MHz?

Mobile Technology such as LTE-M and NB-IoT provides better indoor coverage though automatic repetition of signals and variance in the radio signaling strength. LTE-M and NB-IoT often use the lower frequencies like 2G and 4G. For higher frequencies smaller cells and beamforming is used to get better indoor coverage.

Steel walls are a challenge for any radio signal. The steel used in modern buildings can create similar effects as a Faraday cage, blocking and disturbing signals. To reach these locations smaller cells are needed to reduce the distance between radio tower and device.

A combination of repetitions, smaller cells and beamforming will be used to continue improving indoor coverage.

Beamforming is it for steering of quality?

The effect of beamforming will be a perceived increase in quality, but the primary goal of beamforming is to send more data to a device. This is done by advanced signal processing techniques that uses multiple antennas and focuses the signals to one device instead of spreading it to all directions within a cell.

Use cases such as video streaming, like remote working, will deliver a smoother experience, because data is focused on one device. This will enlighten the user and give a feeling of quality and reliability.

Why choose radio instead of fiber when this is available?

It is not necessary to choose because 5G and fiber will together . Fiber is the technical backbone of 5G networks, because fiber is used to connect base stations and other telecommunication equipment. 5G radio is mainly used for the “last mile”; the communication from cell tower to device.

Fiber can also be used to power WIFI networks. WIFI will still be used for many use cases, but only mobile technology, like 5G, can provide instant global connectivity. (See also the answer on “Will 5G replace WIFI” above).

Do you foresee any new issues or challenges related to cyber security arising from 5G use cases, eg. due to an increase in end point devices?

Any device that is connected needs security management and a secure design from the start, irrespective of the technology, from 2G to 5G from Bluetooth to WIFI.

Mobile technology like 5G offers centralized security management, whereas local networks like WIFI and Bluetooth need local security management. It is easier to apply a consistent security design in a centralized solution. Managed Mobile Connectivity is also monitored and supported by IoT experts 24/7/365, not artificial but real human intelligence by dedicated experts that can take proactive actions like disconnecting devices that behave suspiciously. In addition to human intelligence, events can be defined that trigger automatic actions when devices behave suspiciously.

This is all made possible because of the centralized operations and management of mobile IoT networks. The challenges to cyber security due to hacking applies to all connectivity technology and security by design is needed for all end points. Mobile connectivity like 5G makes it easier to implement and enforce security, compared to decentralized solutions like WIFI.

Watch the recorded webinar

Recommended readings

LTE-M vs NB-IoT – a guide exploring the differences between LTE-M and NB-IoT

Read our guide on how to choose between LTE-M and NB-IoT. Connectivity is a crucial part of product design and performance and the choice of connectivity technology must be considered early in the process.