5G and 4IR has unleashed the Internet of Things

(Image credit: Image Credit: Uverse internet)

It is that time of year again. Soon the great and the good will converge on Barcelona for the annual shindig that is Mobile World Congress. Regulars to the event would have observed how over the past few years MWC has evolved from its primarily mobile focus to its mobile ‘everywhere’ message. In fact, the key theme this year is “intelligent connectivity”. The three letters ‘IoT’ will be plastered everywhere at the conference.

Ten years have passed since the birth of the Internet of Things (IoT), defined by Cisco as ‘the point in time when more ‘things or objects’ were connected to the internet than people’. Since then, its growth has showed no sign of slowing. According to forecasts by IDC, worldwide spending on IoT is expected to reach $745 billion this year, a 15 per cent increase on last year and, by maintaining such growth, is likely to surpass $1 trillion by 2022. This year, the number of connected ‘things or objects’ will have grown by more almost two billion from the early days of the IoT a decade ago to 14.2 billion, according to Gartner’s predictions, and this is set to increase further to around 25 billion by 2021.

These numbers are undeniably very impressive, but it’s worth considering what the rise and rise of the IoT means in real terms for industry and for communications service providers (CSPs). Indeed, given that a large proportion of the predicted 25 billion connections will be mobile, the rapid growth of the IoT and its need for reliable, ubiquitous connectivity represents a significant opportunity for telcos in particular, especially given the potential of the newly arrived 5G technology and its promise of high speeds, ultra-low latency and unprecedented capacity.

5G and IoT: a match made in heaven?

A number of industries and initiatives are set to benefit from the enhancements that a combination of the IoT and 5G will offer in terms of improved operational efficiency and business growth. Consisting of millions of IoT sensors monitoring everything from air quality to traffic patterns, smart cities are essentially the IoT on a city-wide scale, for example. As for 5G’s part in this, some companies describe it as being ‘more than the cellular network that provides connectivity to this plethora of technology’, suggesting instead that it is the ‘connective fabric tying it all together, allowing operators to mine vast datasets for actionable insights that will be crucial in achieving sustainable urban growth.’ It feels like a match made in heaven.

5G will be a key enabler of the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) too, with the myriad connected devices and sensors that make up the smart factory floor relying heavily on its low latency and high bandwidth capabilities for reliable, real time machine-to-machine communications. The power of combining the two technologies has not gone unnoticed by some of the biggest players in the industry. Samsung and AT&T recently announced a collaboration designed to test the potential of 5G in a smart factory environment, with the hope that the project will serve as a template for IIoT manufacturing initiatives across the globe.

Underpinned by 5G technology, and supported by the telecoms ecosystem, the IoT appears to have the power to seriously disrupt the way in which many industries operate.

Industry 4.0 – the revolution has begun

The IoT lies at the heart of Industry 4.0, the fourth industrial revolution (4IR) in which connected computers and devices communicate with each other, automating the factory floor without the need for human intervention. Faster connectivity, IoT and now the fourth industrial revolution will touch and transform every facet of life – from the workplace to the cities we live in.

Smart cities have been defined as cities that incorporate information and communication technologies to enhance the quality and performance of urban services such as energy, transportation and utilities in order to reduce resource consumption, wastage and overall costs, ultimately enhancing the quality of living for their citizens through smart technology.

Over the past 50 years, the burgeoning IoT and advances in mobile connectivity have seen smart cities expand from what was essentially an experimental initiative to tackle housing issues in 1960s’ Los Angeles to a functioning reality. Singapore, London, and Barcelona were recently named as the top global smart cities, due to their infrastructure, use of technology, and government-led change respectively, while greater connectivity has been instrumental in enabling the creation of purpose-built smart cities.

Sidewalk Labs, for example, a subsidiary of Google’s parent company, Alphabet Inc., is building Quayside, a futuristic, data-driven neighbourhood on Toronto’s south-eastern waterfront. And Microsoft founder Bill Gates is getting in on the action as well, investing $80 million in Belmont, a smart city project in Arizona, designed around high-speed digital networks, autonomous vehicles, and autonomous logistics hubs.

With billions of embedded sensors and connected devices monitoring and informing every aspect of a city’s operation, from public services and transportation to safety and sustainability, it should come as little surprise that smart cities recently topped the list of spending on IoT projects. This year alone, we should expect to see advances in intelligent transportation, using sensors and data analytics to dynamically forecast infrastructure utilisation and requirements for public transport services. Public safety will benefit, too, with ever more advanced video analytics enabling greater automation of incident detection and multi-agency co-ordination. Improved analytics and forecasting capabilities will also lead to a significant improvement in environmental monitoring which, in turn, will result in more effective and efficient utilities and services.

It is the connectivity, stupid

None of this, of course, would be possible without the ‘connective fabric’ that mobile operators provide; a smart city without cellular connectivity would be just a “dumb” city.  With the introduction of 5G as a key enabler, we can fully expect to see widespread adoption of the IIoT this year. According to IDC, the manufacturing industry will be the largest investor in IoT solutions in 2019, with Juniper Research predicting 46 billion active industrial connections by 2023, once the IIoT has been fully adopted; and its adoption is set to change everything, disrupting every aspect of the production process. Indeed, a number of use cases already exist in which manufacturers are able to improve their production performance and overall operational efficiency.

Integrating IIoT platforms with operational efficiency applications will deliver real benefits in term of cost, time and resource optimisation, for example, while implementing assisted production and robotic control applications will significantly improve the efficiency and cost-effectiveness of smart factories through greater scalability and flexibility. What’s more, the intelligence and insight provided by analysing the enormous volume of data generated by the connected devices and sensors used throughout the manufacturing process will form a key catalyst to the development and ongoing innovation of the smart factory’s infrastructure.

Essentially, the growing adoption of the IIoT, supported by wired and wireless connectivity - and by 5G in particular - is the driving force behind a paradigm shift, fully realising the promise of the fourth industrial revolution for higher operational efficiencies and new business opportunities. This year, as suggested by the level of investment in IIoT technology, is likely to be an inflection point for 4IR.

Growth and opportunities

The IoT is growing at an unprecedented rate. Due to recent advances in communication technologies, this growth is set to continue exponentially. As the brief examples above illustrate, huge opportunities exist for implementing the technology for a number of use cases across a range of industries. Huge opportunities exist too for players in the telco space to provide their customers with connectivity solutions that will enable these solutions, and deliver greater efficiency, scalability revenue now, and as the IoT continues to grow into the future. Like it or not, the fourth industrial revolution is underway - and it will all kick-off in Barcelona.

Arnab Das, VP, Service Line Leader – Intelligent IoT & Edge, Aricent
Image Credit: Uverse internet