How Intelligent 5G Will Drive IoT Growth in 2021

Some might say we’ve already taken the first steps toward living the multi-connected life that has echoed through science fiction for decades.

Until a few years ago, connected cars were the stuff of science fiction. Only recently have they become feasible. In order for connected traffic to function effectively and safely, however, a great deal of computing power is needed at the edge or at the “point of delivery.” Things like collision avoidance and advanced traffic warnings would need instant, sensor-driven, edge-based computing in order to be effective. In a world limited by 4G and scattered Wi-Fi connections, this simply isn’t possible. Accelerated edge-based data processing could provide the performance, security and bandwidth to take advantage of real-time algorithm processing. 5G is not the only technology capable of bringing IoT to life. 

Give Wi-Fi a chance

It may come as a surprise to some who fully expect 5G to eclipse Wi-Fi and become the new standard once the technology is mature enough. The thing is, Wi-Fi is evolving just as rapidly – or even faster – and the industry is slowly homing in on Wi-Fi 6, the next great milestone. And there have already been successful IoT use cases with W-Fi 6. 

Wi-Fi 6 is nothing short of revolutionary in terms of Wi-Fi connectivity. It provides four times better performance than Wi-Fi 5 and represents the single greatest jump in capability compared to its previous iterations. If we truly want to live in a world with ubiquitous, unbroken coverage wherever we go, Wi-Fi is going to play a pivotal role in realizing this vision for the foreseeable future. And Wi-Fi 6 is getting an upgrade in 2021 thanks to new spectrum coming online with 6 GHz. The Wi-Fi Alliance, the industry body for Wi-Fi, has introduced Wi-Fi 6E, giving enterprises more options to expand their networks. The industry body expects more than 300 million Wi-Fi 6E devices in 2021, augmenting the billons of other IoT devices that will require a robust connection over the next few years.

Both fixed and mobile networks will provide the connectivity foundation. In fact, taking a hybrid approach will most likely get us to where we want to be much faster. There’s no reason both 5G and Wi-Fi management stacks can’t be incorporated into a single interoperable solution using Wi-Fi gateways and 5G cores to enable the rapid onboarding of devices. It may actually be the best way forward, so let’s not put all of our eggs into the 5G basket just yet.

What’s next?

Some might say we’ve already taken the first steps toward living the multi-connected life that has echoed through science fiction for decades. I would argue that we’ve actually taken several leaps and we’re much further into that journey than we realize. The devices, talent and the innovation is there – all that’s missing is a matured 5G and Wi-Fi 6 hybrid infrastructure to really unshackle its potential. That’s why in 2021 the IoT industry’s focus must turn toward integration of this next wave of applications rather than the specific devices themselves.

Thankfully, we’re already seeing this happen, with system integrators working directly with verticalized enterprises to deploy AI along with advanced architectures in pursuit of some of these “next-generation” goals. We know that AI, automation and machine learning are going to play a critical role in the technological landscape in 2021 and for the next decade. Enterprises are already working hard to modernize their operations to take full advantage. By focusing on making the ecosystem and infrastructure “smarter,” we can ensure a much more rapid time to market for these modern applications, removing all of the friction associated with innovating in this space.

The COVID-19 pandemic may have delayed the rollout of 5G, but it’s little more than a bump in the road in the grand scheme of things for IoT and its AI future. If anything, AI deployment has been accelerated. In October, analytics firm RELX found that companies had increased their AI investment and adoption since the pandemic, up 81 percent from 2018. This growth in AI and digitization has been a shot in the arm for IoT, which will make it smarter and faster in 2021 and beyond. Put simply, IoT in 2021 must also be hybrid.


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