LPWA Will Have to Suffice Until 5G Arrives

With Explosive Growth of IoT, Network Quality Must be Ensured

5G IoT
Martin Klapdor

The growth of Internet of Things (IoT) applications is exploding. Industry analysts predict IoT connected devices will grow to almost 31 billion worldwide by 2020, and more than 75 billion by 2025.

The rapid adoption of IoT devices, particularly those found in autonomous vehicles and smart factories, require real-time response in less than a millisecond. Unfortunately, the higher latency of LTE, which is in the double-digit range, is completely insufficient. The answer to this problem is 5G, but so far the fifth-generation network exists only in pilot programs. 

The high cost of implementing 5G has been an impediment to its rollout. In Europe, it is estimated that a half trillion euro investment will be required to put an entirely new infrastructure in place. Renewed antennas, new and expanded fiber optic networks will have to be laid, and additional transmission towers must be set up. There is no doubt that 5G is coming, but steep costs mean significant changes are still a prospect for the future.

In the meantime, low-power wide-area technologies (LPWA), such as Narrowband IoT (NB-IoT), Sigfox and LoRA, present a viable alternative as a bridge to 5G. LPWA low-traffic networks offer important advantages, such as the low power consumption of IoT endpoints, low module cost and maintenance, low latency, high building penetration, and the ability to transmit data over long distances.

Over the course of the next couple of years, NB-IoT will likely be the most variable transition technology because no new infrastructure is needed. NB-IoT can utilize existing LTE networks via software upgrades. NB-IoT is highly scalable, allowing millions of endpoints to be connected in a single network.

NB-IoT offers telecommunication providers a critical opportunity to monetize IoT transactions. Providers will be able to take advantage of new revenue streams made possibly by service level agreements (SLAs) for IoT devices and services. However, in order to make this work, service quality will have to be high. Transmission errors and packet loss could result in SLA penalties. For this reason, effective network monitoring is needed.

The right network monitoring solution will reveal which components are communicating with each other, making dependencies transparent. These insights will make it possible to detect system changes and Quality of Service (QoS) level issues, so rapid trouble shooting can take place. If NB-IoT is going fill the technology gap until 5G comes into force, businesses will need to ensure the availability, reliability, responsiveness, and security of their network IoT services. 

This blog is based on the article, Waiting for 5G: what existing networks have to do now, written by Dr. Martin Klapdor, Senior Solutions Architect for NETSCOUT, which was published at Industry of Things.