5G and Internet of Things (IoT) make great partners, but their marriage is still in its honeymoon phase. Current smartphone users probably know 5G as the little symbol at the top of their screens, which indicates that their device has a high-quality, low-latency network connection.
However, the pairing of 5G and IoT is much more than a clear phone call to your boss via a car's Bluetooth. While that use case might be the most common under the current 5G standard, Release 15, the next standard will unlock advanced connectivity capabilities.
"Over the next several years, there are going to be tens of billions, if not hundreds of billions of IoT endpoints deployed for a number of different use cases," said Bill Menezes, senior principal analyst of sourcing, procurement and vendor management at Gartner.
"Say you're in an urban area surrounded by smart buildings. All of [these buildings will] have installed tens of thousands of sensors for everything from smart lighting and temperature controls, to air quality monitoring and space utilization monitoring."
"Then, right outside that building, you'll have smart street lights, security surveillance, traffic controls, traffic monitoring, pedestrian safety monitoring, etcetera," Menezes said. "Then you add on all of the endpoints that an individual user might have, whether it's a smartwatch or smart glasses."
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This situation is completely viable under the upcoming 5G standard, Release 16, which will surface in the next couple of months, said Dan Bieler, principal analyst serving CIO professionals at Forrester.
Under Release 16, 5G will be able to support massive machine type communications, with low latencies providing the ability to connect a large number of IoT endpoints together in a geographical region, like a factory environment or inner city space, Bieler said.
5G and IoT won't stop there. Here are the five industries that will be most impacted by 5G and IoT.
One of the biggest use cases in the IoT and 5G space will be with connected self-driving machines on the factory floor, Bieler said. These robots have already started to surface, but will be bolstered by this new connectivity, reducing menial tasks for factory workers.
Overall, the manufacturing space will be filled with sensors for machine monitoring, providing insights into the function of those machines and allowing for predictive maintenance and temperature controls, said Naveen Poonian, president of iBASEt, a manufacturing, sustainment, and quality software solutions provider.
5G also provides an advantage in retooling. "If you have to retool every couple of years for new models, you can have all of those IoT endpoints in your machinery," Menezes said.
"So, if you're moving machines around, putting different equipment in, or changing configurations, you can keep the same endpoints without having to run new cabling for them," Menezes added.
2. Supply chain
Once parts are manufactured, 5G and IoT can also assist with moving the pieces through the supply chain.
With sensors, employees can monitor remotely what pieces have been assembled, processed and shipped. 5G and IoT would be especially valuable in large factories or shipyards, which may contain millions of IoT-connected parts, all of which 5G connectivity would be able to handle, Gartner's Menezes said.
The healthcare industry is another area that will see significant advancements from IoT and 5G, particularly in creating better efficiencies in hospital operations, Menezes said.
"A lot of it is going to be related to types of endpoints for things like location services. Whether it's patient monitoring, smart prescription bottles, or drug carts," Menezes said, noting the example of increased efficiency featured IoT-enabled drug carts.
By supplying each prescription bottle on a drug cart with endpoints and multiplying that throughout the hospital, doctors and nurses can find prescription medications significantly faster either on that cart or in the building, Menezes said.
5G and IoT also provides the rapid transmission of large data files, which would allow medics to upload a patient's data to a system while on an ambulance or in the field, and have that data transmitted to a doctor in the hospital. With this technology, doctors can plan a patient's treatment and prepare for the patient before they even arrive, Menezes said.
From the moment a customer walks into a store, 5G and IoT could allow store operators to track the types of products customers look at and update digital ads in real time to reflect those types of products, said Alfredo Patron, executive vice president of business development for TeamViewer.
On the shelves themselves, 5G and IoT lets retailers observe what products are touched or sold the most and adjust store inventory based on those endpoints, Patron said.
Further, all of this data can be processed and digested in real time, allowing retailers to make adjustments immediately, Patron added.
5. Smart cities
Smart cities is another sector already benefiting from the impact of 5G and IoT.
"I used to have a guy come and measure my water meter manually; now they're installing systems so that you can do this remotely," said iBASEt's Poonian. "With my gas meter, I'm now starting to get data analytics on how I'm performing against my peers and trying to create cost-saving programs."
While that's a current use case, IoT endpoints will become even more powerful with 5G connectivity, allowing for more insights across greater distances. For example, using crowdsourced information, the technology can evaluate traffic patterns throughout the city and direct crowds to open parking garages via apps in their cars, Patron said.
"Think of silly situations like big football games where everyone is struggling to find a parking place, particularly in city centers where there's not a lot of parking," Patron said. "Or think of much more dire situations like storms or natural disaster. [5G and IoT] could redirect people and even control the streetlights for evacuations."
The collaboration between 5G and IoT will not only help develop existing projects, but will create use cases never before considered.