GSMA Intelligence forecasts that the number of 5G connections globally will reach 1.3 billion by 2025, covering 40 percent of the world’s population or approximately 2.7 billion people. At that time, the Americas region is expected to account for over 260 million 5G connections or 20 percent of the global market.
The question everyone is asking in telco last couple of years is – do we really need 5G? Do we really need that throughput for our voice, video and messaging services? Can we significantly improve real-time communication services so that customers would be willing to pay for it? RCS aka Advanced Messaging is a great example of how difficult it can be to find the right business model for new technologies. EVS supported in 4G is more than what we need for voice calling. Although video calling is possible in 4G, not that many customers are using this option on their mobile devices. More popular than video is desktop-sharing, collaboration and communication in context. Well, lower latency and better throughput can be useful – but is it a reason strong enough to invest into the new 5G infrastructure, when collaboration applies mainly to fixed networks?
5G Drivers. Source GSMA
Still there are real-time communication applications which require low latency and huge amount of data so that 4G is not enough. Virtual Reality (VR) applications like 360-degree video will necessitate higher resolutions of 8K and above, and stereoscopic video (which separates left and right eye views in VR) also requires additional bandwidth. When most people hear about 3D video, holograms, Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR), they mostly think about gaming. And yes, gaming can be a good example and people like to spend money for entertainment. But there are other examples, where AR and VR can make a difference.
Our current economy is digitized and generates an exponential growth of person-to-person (P2P) transactions. On the other hand we often face challenges around flexibility, trust, identity and authorization that existing financial instruments are sometimes struggling to address.
And that’s where blockchain comes into play. Blockchain is designed as a secure distributed system with high Byzantine fault tolerance. The most successful use cases for blockchain today are related to financial transactions and the management of financial assets. The most famous examples include Bitcoin, Ethereum, Ripple or Hyperledger.
GSMA has just recently published the final numbers for 2017. As expected the last year we’ve seen less 4G deployments than in 2016.
4G Deployments in 2017
The only exception was the RCS. (Btw. GSMA released its Universal Profile Version 2.0 for Advanced RCS Messaging.)
From the population coverage point of view the last year meant a great step forward. Although many developing countries have been still more focused on 3G (4G coverage is on average 35% there), the overall number of 4G coverage increased significantly.
The last time we discussed 5G and IMS. One of the main drivers for 5G is Machine-2-Machine (M2M) communication. But surely 5G is not the only technology which enables Internet of Things (IoT). Many operators already do support proprietary technologies such as SigFox or LoRaWAN. But there are also 3GPP standardized (Release 13) networks for IoT other than 5G. They are LTE-M and NB-IoT, and they both operate on licensed spectrum. These technologies came a bit later, however now it seems they are gaining momentum.
On GSMA pages you can now find an interactive map with the existing IoT deployments.
I like statistics. Sometimes it can be misleading or data can be hard to interpret. But it can help us when we struggle to see the forest for the trees.
The last two years the IP-based mobile technologies were booming. If you are working with 4G networks you know it well. This year however the number of new deployments decreased significantly (Sep 2017, source GSMA).
IP Deployments Sep-17
Well, there can be many reasons for that. Rather than guessing, let’s have a fun and take a look on how popular are some telco topics on Google in the last 3 years.
There are plenty of articles about IoT and other new technologies describing what it will be like in the future. I’m always pleased when we get from an initial idea at least to a prototype. For example I can’t wait for Apellix drone to paint my house or clean the windows 🙂
The original concept of European Automatic Emergency Call (eCall) was presented back in 1999. Since that time the project was delayed several times and it was difficult to find anything we could really touch except for some powerpoints. Finally it has started to work at least in pilots. In Prague, Czech republic the first car recently called 112 (emergency) because of a real road accident.
If you have ever come across the IMS-WebRTC integration, you know how much pain is caused, just by the fact that a web-browser is not equipped with a SIM card. With HTML5 every browser can become a terminal. But with IoT practically any device can be plugged in a big global network. So how to make sure that each such a device has all the information it needs in order to securely connect and get its services?
One possibility is a SIM card. Although it might be an overkill for simple applications, for many it can be interesting as a quite proven and also reasonable secure option. Of course, we talk about the Embedded UICC (eUICC) for machine-to-machine devices. Already in the beginning of 2014 T-Mobile USA announced an e-SIM for M2M communications. A few days ago we got a new GSMA version of Remote Provisioning Architecture for Embedded UICC.
Anyway in my view we are just a half way through. The eUICC is still a physical device. So the it can’t be used for virtual m2m agents or the already mentioned WebRTC. And imagine that for some reason we have to replace all eUICC modules in our whole m2m solution… That’s why I’m still waiting for a so-called Soft SIM, which GSMA defines as:
A ‘Soft SIM’ would be a collection of software applications and data that perform all of the functionality of a SIM card but does not reside in any kind of secure data storage. Instead, it would be stored in the memory and processor of the communications device itself (i.e. there would be no SIM hardware layer).
Do you remember SETI@home? It was 1999 and many many people were helping Berkeley to search for aliens 🙂 Later there were quite a few similar projects which were using the computational power of our computers.
These days we can use so much more than just CPU and memory. Berkeley (Berkeley Seismological Lab) has come with another project called MyShake. Its goal is to build a worldwide seismic network. Practically their MyShake app use the ability of our smart phones to recognize earthquake shaking exploiting their sensors. When the shaking fits the vibrational profile of an earthquake, the app sends the anonymous information to the central system that confirms the location and magnitude of the quake.
The goal of the project is to use the data to reduce the effects of earthquakes on us as individuals, and our society as a whole. MyShake also provides users with information about recent earthquakes around the world and significant global historical earthquakes.
Berkeley works on the project along with Deutch Telekom (T-Mobile Germany) which also presented the app on the MWC. More information can be found on myshake.berkeley.edu.
From our – realtime communication – point of view this is a great example how the IoT is coming. Each device can be via some app plugged into the IoT network. In the future we don’t need to limit ourselves to smartphones only. It is simple enough for the proof of concept, but static monitoring devices can be even better. Why not to use devices from Low power networks? For some of them (e.g. pipelines) this information can be priceless anyway. On the other hand your smart phone can still do a great job when the real earthquake comes. It could then work in the similar way as the avalanche beacons do – just in more intelligent way. It can report if you were affected e.g. by a collapsed building, if you are still alive, send your GPS coordinates … and in order to maximize the battery life, it can do it over the LPN.
Nearly every time I read some article about the Internet of Things I feel that common folks have to think we are completely nuts 🙂 Do we really believe that we’ll control temperature in room via sensors in our cloths? Or that my fridge will communicate with my wash-machine and my microwave oven, monitoring my GPS and getting ready when they’ll notice I’m coming home? It reminds me the programs for 8-bit computers which were making lists of what you needed to buy in supermarket …
And still the IoT is reality. The IoT, or M2M if you want, is not about bringing the Internet to the devices but on contrary making smarted devices which need the Internet in order to behave even smarter (enough of ‘smart’, I promise). A few years ago if we wanted to connect some device (e.g. for SCADA, telemetry, etc.) into our information system we would need to have a traditional radio network. Later it was possible to add a GSM module. Now the price of devices is low and with LTE or in future with 5G network in place the data is not a problem. Just for a fun I can buy a cheap Raspberry Pi and interconnect with LTE module. And indeed, the M2M traffic is now the 2nd biggest source of revenue after the data for many mobile operators. The next year it can be the number one.
Of course, LTE is not the only one. For LTE-A an energy use and cost still remain concerns. More and more we can hear about alternative approaches such as Low Power Wide-area (LPWA) networking or Li-Fi.
IoT is not about standards (now)
The IoT is here already. It doesn’t wait for OMA (OMA_LWM2M), GSMA standards (GSMA IoT web) or Atis (5G Reimagined: A North American Perspective). This can be a surprise for some T1 operators. IoT is what we call ‘enterprise’. It’s like with the web applications. We don’t need to integrate them. They are (firstly) created ad-hoc to fix a problem. If you can’t do it fast, someone else can. Remember the drones? After the military usage one of the very first industries which started to use Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV) was surprisingly agriculture. Farmers didn’t care about how cool it was neither what were the standards. They saw that it could help them with their existing problems. Btw. the agriculture is one of the IoT early adopters too.