The Internet of Things (IoT) is the term to describe the technology that connects software-driven machines and objects, like sensors, with the internet. This enables them to communicate – both with each other and with humans – alongside automatically getting software updates and adapting to changes. This technology is already starting to enter our everyday lives – just think about smartwatches, weather sensors suggesting appropriate clothing choices, refrigerators ordering milk when it has run out, cars getting software updates with new features, and fire detection sensors closing fire security doors and alerting the fire brigade. Smart homes (having features including automatic lighting and heating) and smart factories are becoming more widespread too.
5G is one of the main technologies that can enable IoT, as it is crucial for the wireless communication between devices to have high bandwidths and low latency. Being wireless technology, 5G networks can achieve the high communication requirements of the IoT and connect together many devices even when they are on the move – a necessary requirement for uses like cars or drones.
With the advancement of technologies like tiny sensors and smart mobile devices, along with its energy efficiency advantages, 5G will enable the interconnectivity of everyday physical objects even further. We are already experiencing IoT device growth that is faster than expected – billions of consumer IoT devices are already active (smart homes, smart assistance devices) – and this needs stronger cellular IoT-M2M (machine to machine) connections.
Beyond mobile operator networks, 5G will be used for private networks (called campus networks), especially with applications in industrial IoT scenarios. Enterprise networks (smart factories) are being rolled out today to connect manufacturing lines, logistics chains, quality control, and decision-making processes with each other for greater efficiency, faster production, and better quality. Critical communications – the fire brigade, police, ambulances, and military – is another area where 5G has a big part to play, as optimising response times becomes possible with connected devices like sensors and cameras.
Critics of the IoT argue that a world with even more interconnected devices has an even greater surface area for cyber-attacks. If critical infrastructure is part of this connected environment, society may become even more vulnerable to threats of this nature.