The next phase of mobile connectivity coming to the networks, and what it will enable.
The burgeoning trend of the Internet of Things (IoT), or the concept that all devices will connect to the Internet and talk to each other, has at a minimum spawned a lot of conferences. Most consumers are not quite sure what it means or how it will affect them. But those of us in the networking industry are already hard at work to support this next phase in mobile communications, as the networks themselves need to be upgraded to handle the influx in traffic from so many sources, both consumer and commercial/industrial.
The launch of 5G networks relies on there being much greater throughput, choosable latency, increased reliability, higher connectivity density, and higher mobility range. The capabilities of 5G will facilitate emerging applications that are not yet feasible today, such as public safety and medical applications, industrial control, automated transportation, environmental protection, and artistic creativity, which require different levels of network quality and service. Some IoT applications will require higher bandwidth, while others will demand extended battery life. With 5G networks, the needs of a wide variety of devices and applications will be met so that IoT service providers or enterprises will not need to worry about the details of the network or radio technologies involved.
While 5G has great promise for advancing the networks and enabling capabilities synonymous with IoT, the real question is when 5G will be widely available. As we saw with the rollout of both 3G and 4G connectivity, we know that it can be quite a lengthy process. Ericsson predicts that we will start to see 5G deployments starting in 2020, while Verizon promises its first 5G services in 2017.
5G’s main claim has been much higher mobile bandwidth, but I think its pervasive availability and flexibility will carry the most value. 5G alone will not revolutionize modern life, but the applications for billions of hyper-connected devices communicating with humans and with each other will. The variety of these devices and applications requires a highly flexible infrastructure whose behavior is dynamically programmed by software, which means SDN. We and others are exploring how SDN supports 5G in concrete ways but there should be no doubt that without SDN the promise of 5G will be muted at best. At this stage I advise operators to partner with vendors on proof of concepts and lab trials to get a head start on building such dynamically flexible networks. Equally important, anyone developing 5G infrastructure should maintain a rich dialogue with IoT application developers, including non-technical ones. In ONF, our involvement in smart-cities projects is our channel to IoT, and our support for 5G keeps IoT in the foreground. However you define 5G, it will be SDN-enabled.
- Dan Pitt, Executive Director