Roger Nichols

5G myth and reality: What will really be commercialized in 2020? Part IV: 5G Wireless IoT

Blog Post created by Roger Nichols Employee on Aug 30, 2016

Continuing to expand on my first post, let us now turn to another overused term in the communications industry: Internet of Things (IoT). The challenges once again reside in the intertwined evolution of technology, policy and business model. I may be accused of unbounded skepticism but read on…


Roger’s claim: 5G wireless IoT will not be commercial in 2020.


Wireless IoT is upon us. We see it every day in the various widgets—fitness trackers, wireless cameras, and so on—that often consume more of our time than we spend on their associated activities.


So why do I say it will not be commercial in 2020? Similar to my examination of massive MIMO, it comes down to definition. The 5G vision is for “ubiquitous things communicating.” 3GPP is well on the way to standardizing that vision with LTE Machine-to-Machine (LTE-M) and narrowband IoT (NB-IoT) already released in standards in 2016. We can expect to see both of these commercialized in 2017.


There are also myriad (well, my last count exceeded 80) non-3GPP standards under development and in deployment by smaller consortia for various low-power wide-area or personal-area networks. But none of these are 5G and a new air-interface, proprietary or otherwise, is not enough for the tens of billions of connected devices coming in the next ten years (some claim trillions, but I will slay that myth in a future post).


To achieve massive connectivity, 5G developers must address two more technical challenges, and both are in the protocol stack. One is managing a new media access control (MAC) scheme that enables communications with limited or no use of the “ACK” (acknowledge) concept. This is required for effective management of device power and interference. Such is among the ideas being studied in the new 5G radio-access technology (“New RAT” or NR). Not only is the technology necessary to enable such a “grant-less” system still just emerging from research groups, the 3GPP is focusing its R14 and R15 efforts for NR on eMBB and UR/LLC and not so much mMTC (and hence not yet focused on 5G IoT).


The second technical challenge involves messaging above OSI’s layers 2 and 3. Addressing unique identifiers for huge numbers of devices using today’s protocol standards will create networking overhead that consumes far more resources than the payloads themselves, and thus would burden the mobile packet core (MPC) to a point significantly affecting quality of service (QoS). 


But even if this new standard is complete by late 2018—in time for my rule-of-thumb gestation period of 18 months between “dry ink on a standard” and “commercialization”—the industry will have to recoup the investments currently being made on NB-IoT and LTE-M. This will move 5G NR mMTC commercialization almost definitely beyond the 2020 timeframe.


Adding another new IoT-ready air interface so closely on the heels of these efforts is likely similar to new standards work done in the past when such has stagnated in the standard without commercial deployment. Thus, 2020 will see plenty of wireless IoT, but the 5G part—the part that is defined in the new radio interface and the associated higher-layers in network protocol—will have to wait until a future release.