This article appeared in Electronic Design and has been published here with permission.
What you’ll learn:
- The benefits of LoRa devices and the LoRaWAN protocol
- How connectivity solutions complement the strengths of 5G
In 2020, the promise of 5G networking is continuing to lead conversations across the wireless industry. As 5G deployments increase, there will also be a rise in complementary technologies that offer low-power flexibility, cost-effective power, and low-bandwidth options for massive Internet of Things (IoT) deployments. These solutions complement the strengths of 5G and provide a broader set of tools to support different use cases.
It’s become clear that as 4G and 5G target low-latency and high-throughput applications. A larger portion of the massive IoT space will be led by mobile operators, as well as unlicensed spectrum operators and enterprises across private rollouts.
With LoRa devices and the LoRaWAN protocol, businesses and individuals can benefit from an IoT solution that’s flexible, cost-effective, easy to implement, and one that offers long range and low power consumption.
Misconceptions continue to plague 5G, though. What follows are 11 of the more common myths about 5G.
1. 5G covers all use cases.
While 5G was designed to bring faster speeds and connectivity, LoRa and the LoRaWAN protocol were designed to serve distinct use cases where infrequent communication devices need to be battery-operated and can last in the field for extended periods of time. With LoRa’s long-range and low-power capabilities, it has the power to penetrate physical structures that 5G signals cannot get through. With efficiency at the forefront of customer needs, LoRa and the LoRaWAN protocol cater to that demand.
In addition, the protocol has a communication range that reaches more than six miles, which is farther than 5G’s mmWave variant. While 5G may be optimal for video calls or ultra-low-latency applications, LoRa and LoRaWAN are ideal for water, gas metering, agriculture, smart building, and smart park applications, among many others. Finally, the cost-effectiveness of LoRaWAN network deployment unleashes the ability for network densification, optimizing device battery life, traffic capacity, and coverage.
2. 5G provides coverage everywhere.
One of the main reasons 4G is struggling to cover everywhere is due to increasingly congested networks, and network expansion or densification has become a challenge (tower acquisition issue). As a result, operators are looking to move to 5G networks; otherwise, the current mobile network experience will worsen.
According to the 5G Opportunity Report by Opensignal, cellular operators want to deliver an optimal customer experience and leverage their investments in licensed spectrum. Thus, 5G becomes more attractive due to its more efficient use of this valuable asset. While 5G has started to open up to some consumers, operators are still looking for the best revenue model before massively investing in a roll-out. Even if 5G will bring more capacity in some areas, it will require more towers because of the higher frequencies.
3. It’s low cost to install 5G.
A recent McKinsey report predicts about $700-$900 billion will go into the initial installations of 5G, covering about 25% of the world’s population in the next decade. 5G investments will take years and operators still need to find the business return in investment (ROI). Moreover, operators have heavily invested in 4G networks for 10+ years and they don’t want to see the sun setting too quickly on existing infrastructure.
One of the biggest factors driving the use of the LoRaWAN protocol is that it has a cost-effective network architecture and last mile expansion, with no need to own a licensed spectrum. It reduces upfront infrastructure investments and operating costs, as well as end-node sensor costs. More specifically, its deployments require less energy than other solutions, and due to its extensive battery lifetime of up to 10 years, overall costs are reduced over time.
4. 5G and other IoT technologies will not coexist.
The wireless market shows a multi-radio access network strategy for connectivity solutions. That means businesses and individuals will use the best technology for the best use case as long as the data-management level can easily interconnect any technology.
The complexity and breadth of 5G use cases is massive and no single technology is able to cover all of them. By leveraging other technologies, the 5G ecosystem is able to adopt “best fit” technologies to support its applications.
5. The only source of broadband services will be 5G.
5G is one of several technologies that will improve mobile broadband and support the IoT. 4G, Wi-Fi, fiber optics, and satellite services are already offering valid ways to serve different broadband use cases. In some cases, such as last mile delivery, 5G may even be outperformed by other technologies like Wi-Fi 6.
There’s also a new generation of high-capacity satellites that have the capabilities to provide broadband offerings in remote areas where 5G will not be deployed. In more urban areas, wired fiber-optic networks can be deployed to offer higher capacity (tens of gigabits) and reliability compared to 5G.
6. Only 3GPP technologies connect to the 5G core.
Rather than being a simple evolution of 4G, 5G is the first version of new 3GPP specifications that really opens the standard to any type of communications technology—mobile, wired, fixed wireless, satellite, licenses, and unlicensed technologies such as Wi-Fi and LoRaWAN. This specification offers interoperability, versatility, and value to many verticals.
7. 5G is easy to implement.
To setup a 5G solution, an infrastructure needs to be built out. With 5G, signals run over new radio frequencies, which requires updating radio and other equipment on cell towers. Depending on the type of assets cellular carriers can access, 5G solutions are able to leverage existing 4G networks, which would create a hybrid 4G/5G architecture. However, that’s a huge investment.
Moreover, operators need to drive a deep organization and architecture change toward the 5G core network, which is fully cloud and virtualization focused. It’s a move from a physical infrastructure drive to a network as a service paradigm.
With an existing infrastructure and network in place, LoRaWAN devices are simple to install and can be easily done by nonspecialized workers. Even in the relatively distant future, when all industries are designed to be smart, LoRaWAN will continue to be attractive. That’s because the cost of wiring and configuration of networks will remain simpler and significantly more cost-effective than hardwired solutions.
8. 5G is needed to keep up with the rapidly developing world.
While 5G will make an impact, it will coexist with alternative technologies to benefit different industries and use cases. With market trends showing that 5G infrastructure isn’t easy to implement, there’s a need for a sustainable and cost-effective technology like LoRaWAN. Without a complementary solution, it will be challenging for 5G to deliver a strong ROI for customers.
9. 5G is coming very soon.
The deployment of 5G technology had a rapid start. More recently, though, chipmakers that supply components used in 5G networking equipment have reported delays in 5G rollouts (WSJ). Significant adoption of 5G is going to take years.
LoRaWAN emerged half-a-decade ahead of the 5G ecosystem and has the greatest variety and quantity of sensors and end-to-end solutions. GSMA estimates that by 2025, around half of mobile connections will be 5G. By that same year, 4G LTE usage will be about 59%. In short, 5G will not replace LTE in the way that 4G replaced 3G when it launched. As organizations transition to 5G, 4G will be the go-to network for smart-home devices and users who aren’t on 5G.
Meanwhile, LoRaWAN networks are continuing to lead the adoption of massive IoT use cases. They’ve become a de facto standard, with analysts expecting LoRaWAN and cellular IoT to account for more than 80% of the global low-power wide-area network (LPWAN) market by 2023.
10. 5G will close the digital divide.
The transition from 4G to 5G will take time. This means that while some industries will have 5G initially, many larger areas will still be on 4G for a while. In many rural areas, business and communities still don't have reliable connectivity, let alone high-speed internet or mobile data. The upcoming 5G era may actually widen the gap even further.
11. 5G New Radio will soon cover massive IoT use cases.
5G New Radio (5G NR) is focused on serving high-throughput and low-latency use cases in the millimeter waves. In Release 16, 3GPP made the decision to let 4G address massive IoT use cases in the coming years. During this time, 5G NR isn’t expected to address LPWAN use cases.
While 5G has a long way to go, it represents a huge step forward in the range of communication technologies that can be leveraged to address the almost infinite range of use cases enabled by IoT. However, without easy access to the complementary capabilities of Wi-Fi and LoRaWAN, IoT solution providers will struggle to deliver the ROI for their customers. The ultimate goal of any connectivity provider should be the ability to provide customers with choice. That’s achieved with the complementary approach.
Remi Lorrain is Director of LoRaWAN Networks at Semtech.