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Internet of Things September 2022 Viewpoints

Technology Analyst: Rob Edmonds

Cloud-Based Networks Supporting the IoT

By Mark Smith
Smith is an independent consultant specializing in digital and connected technologies.

Overview

The rollout of the first US cloud-based 5G open radio network could resolve many of the challenges that are hindering IoT-technology growth. Physical obstacles, gaps in coverage, and massive bandwidth requirements remain challenges, but enabling operators to build their own networks could create a democratic and affordable technological solution.

Description

The first cloud-based 5G open radio network in the United States is continuing to advance, with potential benefits for the Internet of Things (IoT) and smart cities. O‑RAN (Open Radio Access Network) is a virtual network architecture that uses off-the-shelf hardware, not proprietary hardware. It allows for a combination of hardware and software that can see easy integration, resulting in less-expensive equipment that is easier to change, upgrade, and scaled than current-generation networks are. Dish Wireless is currently developing the first O‑RAN network in the United States, one of only three in the world. Earlier this year, it selected Samsung to lead the rollout, and both companies will collaborate to deploy Samsung's 5G O‑RAN-compliant vRAN (virtual-radio-access-network) solutions and radio units across the United States. The new network began in 2019, when the previous US administration brokered a deal that allowed T‑Mobile to acquire Sprint, with the understanding that T‑Mobile helped Dish Network set up a new 5G network to keep the number of national wireless carriers to four and maintain competition. Despite some setbacks, the technology continues to see development, and Dish promised the US Federal Communications Commission that it would cover 70% of the US population by June 2023.

Implications

Smart cities have huge data-capacity requirements, but they also face constraints because their high density of connected devices drastically increases the potential for signal interference. Operators have prioritized smartphone coverage in the past, aiming their resources at creating better coverage in open public areas; however, this strategy has left gaps in coverage where smart cities are more likely to host IoT devices, such as in industrial areas and on transport networks. For next-generation networks, providers will have to balance overall coverage with targeted areas of high-bandwidth, ultradense user capacity. One of the potential advantages of O‑RAN networks is that they offer network providers greater flexibility to install plug-and-play hardware to expand capacity along with the demands of emerging smart cities.

Many of the more innovative IoT solutions—particularly networks of remote sensors—are also more suitable for narrowband long-range cellular protocols than they are to, for example, mm-wave (millimeter-wave) technologies, which focus much more on consumer markets. Using open interfaces will be beneficial to operators, enabling them to create and develop networks suitable for their customers' specific needs. This will result in a shift away from vendor lock-in, driving competition and innovation and making the IoT that underpins smart cities more sustainable and affordable.

Relevant Areas to Monitor

  • End-User Demand

    Internet of Things technology has an almost limitless number of potential applications, but most markets are nascent with limited end-user demand. As opportunity areas emerge, grow, and falter, suppliers and other stakeholders may struggle with decisions about how to allocate resources and develop new products.

  • Wireless Spectrum Overlap

    5G networks, home and industrial wireless internet, and smart-home appliances and hubs all seek to communicate using the electromagnetic spectrum. Companies must either gain regulatory approval to use certain portions of the electromagnetic spectrum or make use of increasingly crowded unregulated sets of frequencies.

Impact Scale

On a scale of low, medium, or high, the anticipated level of impact for this topic is: High.

Impact Timing

On a scale of now, 5, 10, or 15 years, the anticipated impact timing for this topic is: 5 years.

Opportunities in the Following Industry Areas

  • AI/Automation/Software
  • Information/Telecommunications
  • Internet of Things
  • Transportation/Logistics

Relevant to the Following Explorer Technology Areas