Exploring the Intersection of 5G, IoT, and Net Neutrality

by Jeff Wiener on March 13, 2015

If there’s one thing this year’s Mobile World Congress revealed to us it’s the fundamental interconnectivity between three seemingly disparate topics: 5G, Internet of Things, and that darned Net Neutrality. As I wrote last week, there was a lot of talk about 5G this year, with the industry promising the future of wireless network technology will be the slightly obvious answer to many of our current network needs, despite the fact that almost no one in the world will see anything resembling 5G before at least 2018.

Beyond stating the obvious that 5G will be better than 4G, however, there was a great deal of chatter about the sorts of apps and services 5G network technology will be able to deliver as well, with much of that focused on the growing Internet of Things. While IoT has been around for a few years now, the burgeoning industry will really find its stride, we’ve now been told, with 5G wireless.

But the future of 5G and its IoT deployment will need significant bandwidth management, the industry is now warning us as well–the prioritized service of certain IoT products and services–which of course brings it squarely in the crosshairs of Net Neutrality. Having seen all three topics emerge at such a key tech conference I have to ask, will these three disparate yet integrally interconnected trends be able to deliver our connected everything existence?

As we’ve said here before, if the Internet of Things is to ever achieve its latent potential it will require unprecedented collaboration from a myriad of industries, all aimed at finding a unified way to deliver our wireless connected everything existence. While IoT is already here, one thing was made abundantly clear at the MWC; its potential growth is integrally linked to 5G technology, so much so that some went as far as to call 5G “the foundation of the IoT era”.

So while IoT doesn’t have to wait for 5G to continue to grow, it does need such advanced wireless technology to overcome certain obstacles, most notably latency. “The IoT will have special requirements that we don’t see today, such as latency,” said Nils Kleeman, Nokia’s head of Mobile Broadband APAC. “Today, latency for LTE is much better than what you had with 3G, but it’s much different when you talk about 20ms latency for smartphones today vs. 1ms latency for automated cars or critical M2M communications, or when you talk about the need for lower battery consumption. So IoT will have these elements that will shape the requirements that 5G must fulfill.”

Simply put, self-driving cars and other such vital products and services will require almost instantaneous network connection, and considering the sheer speed of the connections and the volume of devices looking to connect it quickly becomes clear how 5G will be necessary to deliver that promised future.

But when we’re talking about the possibility of 1ms latency, what we’re really talking about is broadband management, and that means we’re talking about Net Neutrality. As TelecomAsia.net blogger John Tanner writes, “5G will enable advanced IoT apps like driverless cars, real-time healthcare monitoring and drone delivery for e-commerce – and you can’t do any of those things without prioritized bandwidth.”

“We’re in favor of net neutrality, but what happens when you’re in a driverless car and someone listens to Spotify?” warned Deutsche Telekom CEO Tim Hoettges. “The car should be prioritized based on bandwidth needs. You need quality classes to enable the Internet of Things.”

So while our true connected everything existence rests on the arrival of 5G network technology, one has to wonder if such laudable rules like Net Neutrality will impede the growth of the Internet of Things. Of course the FCC promises nothing of the sort, but it seems many of taking a wait-and-see approach, wary of potential impediments on future technological advancements.

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