5G and IoT: the impact of the alliance

The 5G or 5th generation of connectivity networks, freshly arrived on the French market between 2019 and 2020, will significantly impact the Internet of Things (IoT) market, on a technical level. Already present in a dozen countries of the European Union including Spain, Germany, Italy or Finland and already available throughout South Korea or in many U.S. cities, the 5G market will become very competitive.

But what will 5G bring to IoT solutions?

First of all, what is 5G? 

5G is the technology of the fifth generation of cell phone connectivity network, validated by the ITU (International Telecommunication Union) and the 3GPP (3rd Generation Partnership Project) consortium. It succeeds the fourth generation called 4G, extending the technological exploitation LTE (Long Term Evolution).

Compared to 4G or 4G+, 5G will enable more mobile telecommunication speeds, responding to the rapid growth of connectivity and data in our modern societies. The network promises to reach 20 Gigabits per second. This will far surpass the renderings of the current 4G network.

Downloading a full HD movie from a tablet or smartphone will take only seconds with 5G where 4G could take minutes or even hours.

The goal of 5G is to be able to connect not only smartphones and tablets, but more globally all connected objects such as: cameras, watches, lights, speakers …

And what is the Internet of Things (IoT)? 

The notion of IoT (Internet Of Things), was first used in 1999 by the English engineer Kevin Ashton. He was developing a system to connect physical objects to the Internet. The purpose of the invention was to develop systems capable of generating and transmitting data, to offer different services to users.

Conceptually, the IoT refers to connected objects capable of interacting. In a way, it is about creating bridges between the virtual connected world and the real world.

Technically, it can be considered as a technological invention allowing to identify, via SMTP, HTTP, IP address protocols etc., a physical object by means of a non-wireless communication system such as RFID, Wi-Fi or Bluetooth.

As we have already mentioned, the IoT includes the whole ecosystem of connected objects, even on a large scale: televisions, buildings, cars, agricultural plots, etc. Thanks to sensors integrated in these objects, we will be able to manage their operation remotely with just one click and extract the data we want to process. It is the most powerful tool to generate, manipulate and share data.

In 2021, 50 billion more connected objects will enter the market, according to the Gartner Institute. Mérouane Debbah, president of Huawei France’s research lab dedicated to 5G, explained back in 2015 that “networks will have to support more than 100,000 connected objects per square kilometer. It’s very difficult to design because, in the end, the chips will have to consume much less, while being able to do both low and very high speed. That’s why 5G is being touted as a generation of networks for connected objects.”

5 major impacts of 5G on IoT  

The 5th generation of cellular connectivity, specially designed and developed for connected objects, will make them faster, more efficient and will allow the creation of new and more innovative objects that need an even higher connection speed.

1) 20 times more efficient throughput

With 4G the throughput was 1 Gbit/s under optimal conditions. With the arrival of 5G, we will be able to obtain a data transmission speed 20 times higher, that is 20 Gbit/s. Not only will 5G make existing uses, such as video conferencing or video streaming, more fluid, but it will also enable new ones.

This will be the case, for example, for video surveillance cameras posted in the streets. Until now, the images rendered were not very sharp, sometimes in black and white, pixelated, on which it is very difficult to recognize a person or distinguish anything. With a camera connected to 5G, the video images will automatically be in high definition or 4K. This better image quality will make it possible to obtain extremely sharp, precise images, even when activating a zoom.

5G seems to be the only technology offering the required data transmission speed for new connected objects of this type. 5G will be 10 times faster than LTE networks.

Beyond tablets, smartphones or other connected objects in smart homes, 5G will be able to improve the speed of data transmission of connected objects in areas such as wellness, health, agriculture: a connected gluten detector for food control; virtual reality glasses allowing remote medical students to follow surgeries as if they were there; a smart irrigation system in agriculture… and much more.

2) Latency of less than one millisecond

By latency we mean the duration of the “journey” between the transmission of data and its reception by the user. With 5G, it is estimated that this time is divided by 10 (or even 20), meaning that it will take less than a millisecond, imperceptible to the human eye, to receive the data.

This speed and fluidity will allow humans to perform experiments that are still impossible today. We can easily imagine a surgeon operating thanks to remote control commands and trusting 100% his robot counterpart on the spot, or attending a concert of several people in different countries or cities, simultaneously, without any latency moment.

This also requires an excellent connection stability, which 5G brings us. This is essential for the tasks we have just mentioned, especially in medicine where no interruptions would be tolerated.

3) Many more terminals per antenna 

“The network is saturated”. This sentence has become commonplace during an event, a match, a concert. Indeed when a very large number of people are gathered in the same place, at the same time, connected to the same antennas, the throughput is sometimes saturated, no longer able to offer the expected service. A 4G antenna can handle a limited number of terminals, while 5G can multiply this number by 100.

How is this possible? This is mainly due to two technological advances:

  • Massive MIMO: integrating multiple antennas on the same tower.
  • Beamforming: the establishment of a special link between an antenna and a specific terminal. This makes the signal stronger and more stable, in particular thanks to an automatic selection of the best performing signal by the antenna.

This type of technology is ideal in environments where connected objects are multiplied and therefore require a quality connection, without interruption.

4) Bandwidths 10 times larger

The higher the throughput requirements (more speed, less latency, high stability), the higher the bandwidth size must be. Indeed, one cannot go without the other. To take a concrete case, it’s as if you didn’t adapt the pipe to the flow of water flowing through it.

To cope with this explosion of data, the bandwidth of 5G will be 1000 mhz against 100 mhz for 4G. The 5G will allow its users to benefit from up to 200 GB against 9 today (according to Ericsson, 2025 forecasts).

5) Energy savings

5G antennas consume on average 2 to 3 times less energy than conventional 4G antennas. Indeed, a single 5G antenna covers more people and handles more data than several 4G antennas. The energy impact is therefore lower. In the same logic, MIMO and beamforming technologies also reduce energy consumption.

To make a comparison of this saving, in our house, it would be like saving electricity by replacing the automatic switching on of a whole room by the supply of each lamp on a case by case basis.

Risks of using 5G for IoT 

The possible risks announced by the arrival of 5G, as surprising as it may seem, are numerous.

The first and most controversial is health.

Indeed, the detractors of the network announce dangerous health effects that would be caused by radio waves at 26 GHz, causing: nausea, alteration of the heartbeat, but also in the long term cancers, chronic diseases and a weakening of the immune system.

However, the majority of scientists reject these hypotheses by explaining that these waves are not so powerful as to attack the cells of the body or the DNA. Radio waves are not to be confused with X-rays or ultraviolet rays, which have a much higher power and energy.

The second risk concerns the security of access to connected objects and our data.

According to what we are told, 5G will be designed to provide a higher level of security than 4G, but we know that in reality, the multiplication of connected objects will somehow compromise the security of our data.

According to Sylvain Chevallier, lecturer in the Computer Networks & Telecommunications department at the IUT in Vélizy, “the 5G network will be permissive, like all networks […] it can be quite chilling to imagine that someone could take control of your vehicle remotely and make you do anything”.

This is why some countries believe that it would be far too risky to entrust the network with the deployment of strategic infrastructures, since security flaws will be even more numerous with inter-connectivity and our connected objects: autonomous vehicles, accessories, medical devices etc.

Launching 5G in sensitive areas right away before implementing a security plan to match would naively open up a big window of opportunity for cybercriminals.

The third risk comes from the very structure of the future network.

All mobile networks, up to 4G, require the security of the equipment installed by operators to transmit data. 5G is conceived as a network capable of adapting to the needs of specific areas or uses, which will imply a multiplication of the so-called “core network” equipment. The antennas and associated radio installations will therefore represent as many possible entry points to compromise the security of the network.

But it should be remembered that the risks presented by 5G, would be largely inherited from 3G and 4G. Syed Rafiul Hussain, a researcher at Purdue University, points out that “many of the security flaws of 4G and 3G have been adopted by 5G, it is also likely that vulnerabilities from previous generations will also be inherited by 5G. The new features of 5G have not yet undergone a rigorous enough security assessment.”

The industry is rubbing its hands before the arrival of 5G, which will play a crucial role in accelerating the digitization of factories, transport infrastructures and ultimately in improving the monitoring of products and manufacturing processes.

The network will be able to manage millions of connected objects through a single antenna. The new applications will be both innovative and completely new, especially in the field of “smart cities” thanks to sensors that measure air pollution, temperature, water consumption, etc. The network also promises advances with autonomous cars: the data sent by the car (identification of road signs, turns, parking, braking, etc.) will be received in real time by the surrounding cars.

As you can see, with the alliance of IoT and 5G we are witnessing a real technological revolution.

In the IoT market, 5G will also enhance the development of other technologies, such as Artificial Intelligence, augmented reality and virtual reality. 5G-enabled IoT devices will drive innovation in the industrial landscape.

As IoT gains confidence among consumers and businesses due to its benefits for streamlining operations, 5G is emerging as a new technological ingredient for the Internet to boost its connectivity and speed.

But at the same time, the technology will certainly face many challenges mainly related to security, health, privacy and data consistency when communicating between connected objects.