Co-authored by : Brijesh Unnikrishnan
As software continues to define everything, the technology landscape is evolving rapidly. A massive-IoT (Internet of Things) storm is already at our door steps. Even if we consider a fraction of the IoT devices that Machina Research predicts (27 billion in 2025), it’s a huge number. Let's have a look at where the cellular operators based on 3GPP (Third Generation Partnership Project) technologies stand and how much are they expected to gain from the massive-IoT market share.
IoT technical requirements for end devices are quite stringent. The industry needs a minimum of 10 years of battery operations for devices. The module cost must be less than 5 USD. The CAPEX and OPEX need to be minimum with software upgrade preferred over hardware upgrades. Link budget is an enhancement of 15-20 dB.
4G - Falling Short on IoT Requirements
Communication technologies for IoT connectivity need a business case. When the IoT market was at its infancy, technologies like Low Power wide area (LPWA) technologies like LoRaWAN, and SIGFOX started picking up market share with little or no competition as early as 2009. 3GPP based conventional LTE (Long Term Evolution or 4G) technology being a broadband technology, also came up in a similar timeframe but it simply did not meet IoT technical requirements. Its limitations were high power consumption, low battery life and high device cost owing to hardware upgradation for 4G.
The Business Case for 4.5G
3GPP LTE Release 13/14 over and above LTE Release 8 is creating a case to defend the interests of Cellular Operator Networks in 3 variants:
- LTE-MTC - Machine Type Communication - 1.4 MHz, Release 12/13 only a software upgrade over conventional LTE.
- NB-LTE-M – Narrow Band-LTE- Machine Type Communication – 200 KHz, Release 13, enhancement over conventional LTE.
- NB-IOT – Narrow Band-Internet of Things – 200 kHz, new but simpler and cheaper hardware.
All these variants are now shifting the focus back on 3GPP-based network operators. Although this is applicable to Network operators already having (or planning) LTE networks, the ones still with conventional 2G/3G networks will take a hit to be IoT ready in the near future. Although NB-IOT can be deployed in deprecated GSP spectrum also.
5G: The Ultimate Solution to Massive-IoT
LTE technology evolution to Release 13/14 serves the need partially, as 5G is on the way. The technology is expected to bring in up to 10Gbps of speed at the touch of the screen and support up to 100+ billion devices. This technology stands on the pillars of massive-MIMO, Heterogeneous Networks, Network Slicing, SDN and NFV. In fact, massive-MIMO is poised to incorporate tens to hundreds of antennas compared to 8x8 in LTE-Advanced.
5G Core network will completely be virtualized on general purpose COTS hardware. Irrespective of the network functions like EPC, CDN, Video Optimizer, IMS, and Firewall, all the solutions will be on virtualized network with resource pooling. This type of core network will significantly save cost, will be easy to scale, and be elastic. The decoupling of control plane from data plane will create innovative network applications from third parties over and above automated service orchestration on a centralized network control.
5G Services - The Next Level
5G services will include enriched communications services which will be mostly IMS based. VoLTE/ViLTE services have matured since the advent of IMS alongside LTE and LTE-Advanced and are likely to take up completely from CS Voice calls. Similarly SMS, MMS, Cell Broadcast, and Public warning system (PWS) are all expected to integrate into a single RCS (Rich Communication Suite) integrated service
From Mobile Broadband to Virtual presence, thin clients to augmented realities, ViLTE (Video over LTE) to UHD (ultrahigh definition) content delivery, Smart phones to massive IoT market, clearly 5G will have a huge impact.
This is where mobile cellular operators are expected to take a significant slice of the pie.
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1 Machina Research, May 2015