Inside Advanced Scale Challenges|Wednesday, December 12, 2018
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5G Seen as Key to IoT 

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Among the critical elements required to support expanding Internet of Things deployments are wider wireless pipes that consume less power. That’s the promise of IoT networks supported by emerging fifth-generation, or 5G, wireless network rollouts that go well beyond mobile phones to support networks of connected devices.

As wireless carriers jockey for position—including a proposed merger between T-Mobile and Sprint—emerging IoT applications such as low-power, wide area connections are forecast to grow at a more than 200-percent annual rate through 2021. Industry tracker IHS Markit predicts in an updated forecast released this week that emerging 5G-based connections will help boost machine-to-machine connections as well new IoT platforms and services.

“In order to scale up IoT revenues, operators will need to pursue a broader IoT strategy that goes beyond connectivity into IoT platforms, vertical offerings and ecosystem orchestration,” notes Julian Watson, senior IoT analyst at IHS. “By pre-integrating partner platforms, hardware and sensors into their IoT offerings, operators can make it easier for enterprises to plan and budget for IoT projects.”

In preparation for the 5G wireless rollout, IHS said operators are taking advantage of recent upgrades to current 4G LTE connections as they tackle “massive” IoT applications ranging from asset management and supply chain logistics to infrastructure and environmental monitoring.

New IoT networking entrants such as Comcast (NASDAQ: CMCSA) are expanding early machine-to-machine networks for use cases such as asset tracking, environmental monitoring, lighting control and utility metering, IHS said.

Watson noted that wireless giants AT&T (NYSE: T) and Verizon (NYSE: VZ) launched nationwide LTE-Machine IoT networks in 2017. Both are seen steadily shifting from network connectivity to more ambitious platform and services. Verizon has move aggressively to acquire telematics and fleet management capabilities, fueling IoT revenues to $1.5 billion in 2017, the market tracker reckons.

Meanwhile, the parent companies of T-Mobile (Deutsche Telecom) and Sprint (Softbank) have each focused on new IoT services eventually based on 5G wireless networks. Japan’s Softbank (TYO: 9984) has been especially aggressive via its ARM chip design unit that in recent months has unveiled several IoT initiatives, including a security framework and an IoT processor project dubbed Trillium designed to bring machine learning and neural networking functionality to the network edge.

“SoftBank’s investment in IoT, and the related areas of artificial intelligence and robotics, is for the long term,” IHS analyst Watson said.

As mission-critical IoT applications are deployed, the market tracker predicts that new 5G networks will help support “applications requiring high reliability, ultra-low latency, strong security and availability, [creating] opportunities in areas like autonomous vehicles and the remote operation of complex automation equipment.”

About the author: George Leopold

George Leopold has written about science and technology for more than 30 years, focusing on electronics and aerospace technology. He previously served as executive editor of Electronic Engineering Times. Leopold is the author of "Calculated Risk: The Supersonic Life and Times of Gus Grissom" (Purdue University Press, 2016).

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