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Supporting and Enhancing IoT Connectivity in Urban Areas

Awareness of the transformative nature of 5G is increasing and we know full well that 5G is used for more than cell phones. It will be used for industrial, medical, AI, and automotive devices to talk to each other. Municipalities throughout the world are becoming more and more intrigued with how IoT can improve city services, monitor the environment, enhance security, improve traffic flow and much more. Therefore, 5G will result in more IoT access points, sensors, and data coming into networks.

This is vital data. 5G IoT traffic flows might be a trickle now, as most cities have implemented narrowband applications, but they are expected to grow into torrents of data resulting from both the increases in the number of devices and the speeds each device will require in the next few years. Therefore, network planners are busy determining the best way to transport this data to network operations and city “command” centers. The rapid growth of IoT connections to homes, enterprises, industries, governments and other places is making wireless networks the backbone of all of these new services – for the simple reason that fiber and other “wired” technologies simply cannot go “everywhere.”

So which 5G frequencies look promising for these purposes? Over the last decade plus, with 3G and LTE, network operators have become comfortable with the lower band frequencies. For this reason, some countries have released 2.6 GHz, 3.5 GHz and 4.9 GHz spectrum for 5G and even 600MHz is currently used for 5G NR mobile phone service. These bands will propagate well, but do not have the spectrum to support true gigabit services, services that new IoT applications are driving.

However, in countries like the U.S., frequency allocations vary by area. Carriers must participate in an auction process to obtain licenses in different cities and a may also have different bandwidth availability in different areas of its network. Ultimately, which band and what bandwidth could be used are determined by field network optimization. In sum, new IoT, which will push networks into the mmWave bands, where there is plenty of interference-free spectrum and bandwidth to accommodate services riding on HD video and similar. These bands, specifically the 60 and 70/80 GHz bands, fall in the realm of what’s known as “fixed” 5G wireless, as opposed to the cellular 5G “NR” (new radio) frequencies, referenced above.

This situation makes for a complicated process when it comes to setting up a municipal or private network to support IoT connectivity. In the LTE world, it is possible to lease from a carrier LTE capacity for a private network dedicated to a single purpose, such as public safety, IoT connectivity or an enterprise network. The 5G NR answer to that is the concept known as “network slicing,” which is a “virtual network” function designed to accommodate different use cases and quality of service. Today public safety network operators are looking into the network slicing option and managing “their own slice.”

On the other hand, since these slices are virtual and therefore cloud-based, how does one assure that these virtual slices meet stringent criteria for reliability and security, especially when IoT is carrying video traffic for example.

A way to avoid all of this debate is to move into the millimeter wave frequency range. Indeed, anticipating a capacity crunch at the lower frequencies due to all the new mobile video, IoT and other features 5G will enable, regulatory bodies around the world are opening up mmWave spectrum in the 24, 28 and 39/47 GHz bands. These bands do currently have more capacity and less “noise” than the lower tier bands, but in almost all instances a network operator would have to contract with a carrier in order to use them and they have been designated for 5G NR.

However, one way to make all these issues moot is for a local government to use the high band mmWave frequencies of 60GHz and 70/80 GHz and run its own private network. These bands are either completely license free or only lightly regulated, are “free and clear” in terms of interference from other radio sources. Further, any frequency not associated with a carrier will have a much lower “dollars per bit” cost.

A further consideration is the difference between “massive IoT” and “critical” IoT services. A city can have thousands of sensors and cameras connected to various street furniture and monitoring things as disparate as the amount of snowfall on a street to how crowded a central plaza area is becoming. While always on, these applications transmit data on a periodic basis – and systems like this are called massive IoT.

Critical IoT consists of bandwidth hungry applications developed for first responders, connecting city hospitals for telemedicine purposes and “industrial” IoT style applications developed for electric, gas or water utilities. The fact is more and more countries around the world are opening the 60GHz band for fixed 5G services - another indicator that municipalities can use mmWave to support their IoT networks now.

Lastly, Siklu has been providing mmWave networks for years and has the most experience in the industry. We have been anticipating trends like this for the past several years and upgraded the performance of our product portfolio accordingly. This includes support for applications and features such as bandwidth provisioning, network planning and simulation software, configuration options, endpoint and backhaul applications, software upgrades and enhanced online and in person customer service.

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