5G cellular Internet of Things connectivity won’t be mainstream for at the very least another 5 years – and longer when looking at growth projections for all types of wireless IoT and IoT connections in general. Homeland security could well be the first use case with a major impact – and certainly a lot of societal debate.
5G initially isn’t about IoT. When 3GPP release 16 is here in 2020 with its support for massive IoT (3GPP stands for 3rd Generation Partnership Project, the cellular/mobile industry’s standardization organization), operators can start but that doesn’t mean they roll out immediately. Moreover, each analyst firm we checked doesn’t expect large growth in cellular IoT connections of the non-LPWAN (low power, wide area network) kind until, at the earliest, 2025.
Yet in the early 2020s we might see some areas where 5G cellular IoT could have a major impact according to research firm Berg Insight. And it’s here that homeland security comes in with, let’s call it as it is, quite advanced and pervasive monitoring capabilities.
While in some countries 5G auctions haven’t taken place yet, in other countries operators are already investing in their fifth generation networks.
Even if the first 5G network investments and deployments don’t focus on IoT many have been touting the myriad opportunities of 5G and IoT for years (forecasts from large analyst firms were far too optimistic though). But Enhanced Mobile Broadband and 5G Fixed Wireless Access (FWA) technology are the first focus areas in 5G while Massive Machine-Type Communications (mMTC) and Ultra-Reliable Low-Latency Communications (URLLC) come later.
Cellular LPWAN before 5G cellular IoT – the long journey ahead
So, despite all the buzz it’s still very early days to see applications in the world when it boils down to 5G cellular IoT (and of course 5G as such isn’t there yet either).
Furthermore, the cellular LPWAN standards of the mobile industry which are (still being) rolled out (also beyond 2019), specifically NB-IoT and LTE-M, already offer enough options for lots of IoT use cases and applications, along with non-cellular standards such as Sigfox and LoRaWAN, to name the two main ones. In fact, for the moment non-cellular LPWAN still grows faster than the cellular options (which are far from omnipresent even if operators are in a rush now to do so and announcements of deployments increase across the globe). LTE-M and NB-IoT are also included as 5G mobile standards with the goal to provide operators a path to 5G NR frequency bands while preserving NB-IoT and LTE-M deployments.
It’s expected that by 2023 LTE-M and NB-IoT will take over non-cellular LPWAN options and even then LPWAN has years to go. Add traditional cellular connections, fixed lines, satellite and all the other connectivity solutions and we’re good to go for close to all IoT use cases, from consumer applications and enterprise IoT to the industrial IoT applications found in areas such as Industry 4.0 and Logistics 4.0.
Homeland security and 5G cellular IoT: high-density networks of AI-supported security cameras
Simply put: there isn’t a real need soon for 5G cellular IoT. Yet, it won’t last until 5G is used broadly in IoT before the first use cases are here of course since there are indeed some use cases fit for it, also in security – and in homeland security.
Many agree on where the main uses cases for 5G in IoT will be situated: cars no doubt are key here and it’s expected that 5G will be driven by the automotive sector. Connected vehicles (with – later – self-driving ones), Industrial IoT, smart cities, asset tracking, smart grids, security infrastructure, drones, robotics and a few more can be added- step by step.
Note: this doesn’t mean that 5G would be the best fit in all applications in these areas, well on the contrary. Again, LPWAN still has years to go and ample applications in the just mentioned use case categories don’t need 5G at all. When you think 5G and IoT it’s ‘really’ about real-time critical data needs with high reliability and no latency (which makes some applications for IoT in public services and IoT healthcare fit too; e.g. emergency services).
So, research firm Berg Insight mentions homeland security as an area where 5G cellular IoT could already have a major impact in the early 2020s. It’s certainly not the area that will be most liked and it will lead to discussions and controversy.
Tobias Ryberg, Principal Analyst at Berg Insight explains the ‘what’: “5G enables the deployment of high-density networks of AI-supported security cameras to monitor anything from security-classified facilities to national borders or entire cities”.
This means that we’re also talking about some pretty ‘advanced’ surveillance and security deployments on top of possibilities that already exist in some countries and – yes – you can also include data-intensive applications here that make monitoring and processing very advanced and fast (facial recognition included) to these use cases. ‘Monitoring everything’ is literally monitoring everything one wants to monitor – that is 5G and IoT with artificial intelligence too.
Homeland security and 5G cellular IoT: societal debates ahead
Tobias Ryberg is of course aware of the challenges at hand in times when there’s already quite some protest regarding surveillance and monitoring.
Think about existing discussions in a scope of homeland security; among others from an AI and surveillance perspective or even regarding the usage of bio-metric data in a scope of passports which are seen as ‘symptoms’ of an ever further-reaching surveillance state mentality by quite some people across many countries.
Tobias Ryberg: “How this technology is used and by whom is likely to become one of the most controversial issues in the next decade.” That’s indeed what it boils down to – in homeland security and beyond as ‘monitoring everything’ can also be more than about borders but also include smart city deployments (you know the cities where CCTV has been deployed since a long time) and any facility that’s deemed security-classified.
The question is of course what is classified and what’s not. Are we talking about critical facilities which are typically more protected (nuclear plants, prisons, critical power facilities, government buildings, military facilities, etc. ) or are we also moving to ‘smart buildings‘ that might be more public as in some countries (in surveillance states reigned by a culture of fear and control one might include schools, public libraries,…)? A matter of culture, ethics, norms and regulations. Obviously there are privacy regulations such as the personal data protection rules of the EU and more are coming but still: governments are a bit of a different story and it’s a more complex matter when you look at it in detail and globally. Even today, within the EU, there are already discussions about fingerprints on passports, imagine what advanced and pervasive monitoring will lead to, homeland security and others.
Berg Insight points to the area of homeland security with the mentioned ‘benefits’ at the end of a small news release announcing a report from the Swedish dedicated M2M/IoT market research firm that is highly respected in the mobile and IoT industry. We thought it was worth mentioning – as you can tell. You can read more about the report that looks at the evolutions in the global M2M/IoT communications market here.
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