"We all know that with the increase of connected devices we will need more capacity," said Toni Eid, CEO and founder of Telecom Review, leading a panel discussion on the role of 5G and the network requirements for IoT (Internet of Things) at the 7th 5G MENA conference held in Dubai on May 1.
Mr. Eid was joined by panelists Hani Yassan, Senior Director of Technology at Qualcomm; Nadine Akkari, Associate Professor at King Abduliaziz University; Paul Bradley, 5G Working Group Chair at SIMalliance; and Peter Clemons, founder and Managing Director at Quixoticity.
The panelists focused their discussions mainly on connectivity requirements for IoT and 5G, standardization and monetization of the technology, and also the demands of new technology on current and future networks. What we will be able to see in a world of 5G, the panelists explained, is a lot of different sectors and industries merging together to create new business models that we don't see today.
Peter Clemons looked at 5G from a critical communications perspective. He founded the company Quixoticity in 2012, to develop new ideas in the field of critical communications for the benefit of all. Critical communications, emergency services and public safety currently function with mission critical voice and data which is limited and not always 100% reliable.
This has served the industry well, said Clemons, but 5G will be able to open up new possibilities for the sector in terms of wearables, remote surgery, autonomous vehicles, etc., for use by first responders and for utilities by transport companies to have more awareness of a situation and to respond effectively.
"We are just at the beginning of a long road towards where we want to get to," he said, "and it's important for us to continue taking advantage of existing investments that have been made."
Echoing Clemons suggestion to make the most of current technology, Mr. Eid asked the panelists whether or not the current 4G and 4G+ networks could support the Internet of Things for now, since there is still more capacity needed for 5G and standardization hasn't been finalized yet.
Paul Bradley, who heads SIMalliance, a non-profit industry association which simplifies aspects of hardware-based device security, said the question of whether or not 4G could handle IoT doesn't come down to radio, but more to do with machine learning, analysis of big data, and artificial intelligence (AI).
"From my perspective, many of the IoT use cases will not require 5G radio evolution and we can do a lot of what we want to do with NB-IoT (Narrowband-IoT) today and the evolution of that," said Bradley. "We already have the power and plenty of other things to contribute to IoT. But what we do need with regards to 5G evolution is the arrival of the multi-access edge, and also stronger analytics of big data, machine learning and artificial intelligence. These aspects can help us make decisions based on data collection from many different places."
Clemons agreed with Bradley that, particularly with 3GPP, there has been a lot of focus on the radio side of 5G to get faster and faster speeds, but what has been left behind are some of the networking protocols and the development of the core network itself.
An end-to-end approach to communications is needed, said Clemons, particularly with regards to security and mobility. "The original internet was not designed inherently for mobility and security, so we're seeing within ITU, IEEE, 3GPP, etc., a much closer cooperation between the different standards bodies to redefine how we deal with the network and how we frame the data that's being sent and making sure that it's secure," he said.
Nadine Akkari, an associate professor with the faculty of Computing and Information Technology at King Abdulaziz University in Jeddah, echoed Clemons statements saying 5G will be "made of many brands and many technologies all integrated together." The vision of 5G, she said, is very near and will most likely be deployed commercially after 2020. Technologies such as 4.5G will make the transition to 5G much smoother, she added.
There will be many difficulties facing the deployment of 5G, said Mr. Eid introducing the topic of challenges the industry will face in rolling out the technology. The challenges that industry players face include spectrum issues, investment issues, and also the fact that current devices are not yet capable of operating on 5G. How can these challenges be overcome?
"What we are seeing at the moment - particularly with 3GPP - are the network vendors, the network operators, the chip manufacturers, etc., defining what they believe to be 5G; but at the same time we are also seeing a lot of new players such as open source, very large IT players, platform players, etc.," said Clemons.
"I think long term, I'm very optimistic that the 5G vision will be delivered and that the parameters we've been discussing will be achieved. But I think that in the short term there will be considerable pain, particularly for a lot of the traditional players within this space. This is perhaps worrying for emergency services or public safety organizations who will be trying to understand how to go from a mission critical voice environment to a mission critical data rich and multi-media kind of environment."
Clemons predicts that 5G networks will be deployed within the timeframe that has been suggested (by 2020); however, it will probably take a lot more time for some of the industry players that have invested heavily in 5G to actually see all the services and applications come to life. This challenge all depends upon the speed at which 5G services and applications are developed after the networks have been rolled out.
Hani Yassin, head of Technology Strategy at Qualcomm International overseeing the Middle East and Africa, said the main challenge he sees for IoT going forward is the business model - how to make profit out of the small amounts of data bits that are transmitted by so many sensors.
Mr. Yassin is responsible for providing Qualcomm products and technologies road maps, market update and technical advice to regional telecom industry stakeholders. Drawing from his experience, Yassin said the money to be made from IoT is not from the connectivity itself. The money has to be made from the data itself - monetizing the data - and utilizing how data is used by people.
"You will see a big shift in IoT from the connectivity to the cloud to the services to the monetizing and less and less focus on the actual pipe," said Yassin. "Otherwise, if we keep talking about the pipe, then there is no money to be made."
Mr. Bradley concluded the conversation by emphasizing the importance of seamless connectivity with regards to 5G and IoT. Looking at the devices available today, the main device is the smartphone, but the smartphone, he said, has "very much plateaued in terms of potential growth."
"Where we are going is beyond the smartphone into enterprise, into the critical communications space, and into the industry vertical space, and what is most important for these sectors is seamless experience," said Bradley. "It's very important that things just work without any glitches. For us, this is one of the major challenges, but still a massive opportunity."