The Real Promise of 5G

“Won’t 5G kill LoRa, Sigfox, and all other Low Power Wide Area Network (LPWAN) offerings like Astrocast”? The answer is, no.

While new cellular offerings like Cat-M and NB-IoT are clearly designed to give cellular operators a competitive offering against other IoT standards like LoRa and offerings like Sigfox, their coverage is limited and will never cover the entire globe with a single, low-cost offering, like Astrocast.

Every technology has pluses and minus, and the choice of which technology will always be driven by the requirements for the solution. There are no “one size fits all” technologies. If your application only needs to monitor devices in dense urban areas, Cat-M or NB-IoT might be reasonable solutions. If your devices are confined to campus environments, and you don’t want to pay monthly recurring fees, LoRa systems might be great for you. If your devices are mobile and roam, NB-IoT probably won’t work. If your devices are located in rural areas or are marine-based, Astrocast might be a good fit.

Cat-M hardware works on the existing LTE networks, so it is available on 4G networks today. Carriers like it because they don’t have to spend money to build new antennas or base stations.

It is the intention that Cat-M will carry forward into 5G deployments and be backward compatible. NB-IoT uses a different modulation and requires investment in infrastructure, so it is not as widely available now. Both offer low-cost hardware and low monthly services; neither are specifically 5G technologies. Neither uses the new 5G New Radio air Interface, and the native 5G NR IoT specifications won’t be finalized until 2021 by the 3GPP standard body and deployed until 2023 or 2024.

The promise of 5G is that it will eventually deliver speeds of 10 gigabits per second to your phone. That’s 600 times faster than 4G and 10 times faster than some fiber to the home offerings. It’s fast enough to download a 4K high-definition movie in 25 seconds.

This is the main focus of most 5G deployments around the world. People will pay for this service!

But it will be some time before this type of offer is available widely. This is because 5G, while a standard created by the body that creates standards for all the cellular operators worldwide, it is not a unified offering, and different carriers are rolling different variants of the offering using different frequencies.

To understand this, let’s take a very high-level view of the technology. The 5G offering has 3 basic frequency groups low, mid, and high band frequencies, though the total number of frequency pairs worldwide in these 3 groups is over 40. Each band has different characteristics. The high band or millimeter-wave frequencies are the ones that will carry the very high-speed service, but it comes with trade-offs in the infrastructure.

Generally, the higher the frequency, the shorter distance signals can travel, and the more they are susceptible to interference from vegetation, people, and even rain. This means to deliver a reliable, mobile service, carriers will have to build access points on every street corner, instead of a network of cell towers spaced every few miles.

This massive investment requirement means that these networks will only be built in densely populated areas that can guarantee heavy usage from customers with heavy average revenue per user (ARPU). A basic Return On Investment focus will dictate that network deployments for Low ARPU customers, such as IoT applications, are not going to be prioritized.

The Astrocast network offerings are dedicated to the millions of devices needing low data rate services in the 80%-90% of the world that will never be covered by any cellular-based.

About the author | Bryan M. Eagle III is a serial entrepreneur with over 20 years of experience in designing, developing and deploying M2M/IoT solutions

Astrocast is an IoT company using a network of nano-satellites to offer low-cost and global communication services to a wide range of industries.

Astrocast (@strocast) offers a bidirectional and highly secure connection to any #IoT device on Earth.