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5G & IoT

“May you live in interesting times.” Indeed, in the technology space—notably around wireless—the last thirty years have not been dull. If I beat the odds and stick to the planet for another three decades, I’ll be lucky enough to live through truly interesting times—as or more transformational as the past thirty years.

At the recent IEEE Communications Society (ComSoc) 2017 Globecon conference a hundred or so “Young Professionals” were encouraged to dive into the future fully feet-first. The next 30 years—the length of a full-on engineering career—promises technology connectivity and access on an unprecedented scale. This is especially encouraging to compliance professionals across multiple-disciplines.

As part of the 2017 Globecon activity, ComSoc organized a workshop on 5G communications under the IEEE Future Directions 5G Initiative. This is a parallel and complementary activity organized by the same folks working on The Internet of Things (IoT).1 In each case, IEEE Societies are connecting together to form strategies to shape of the world of future communications. 5G is really an enabler of IoT. Many of the same technical and structural issues facing IoT will be covered by initiatives in the 5G space; they are tightly coupled.

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The big question is: Where is 5G going? Under the (r)evoluationary mobile communications changes we’ve experienced in the past 20 years, 2G TO 4G has mostly been about data rates and specifications that up bandwidths and modulation techniques to allow streaming video while traveling down the highway at 100 km/hour.

5G, which will be rolling out steadily, is a much different effort and, to quote Ashutosh Dutta, who is leading the IEEE’s initiative: “5G is the next-generation mobile telecom technology and it will represent a revolutionary leap over 4G capabilities in terms of greater data speeds, lower latency, massive sensing, and network flexibility. 5G, when fully realized, will enable sensational applications. 5G will connect people with other people, with the cloud, devices, networks of devices, networks of networks at speeds and with network advancements that will enable the Internet of Things, Augmented Reality – the big picture is really big.”2

All of this requires massive connectivity and has given rise to an aspect of Big Data, further spurring the development and use of Cloud Computing.

This article reviews some of the current thinking with regard to IoT. The range and scope of IoT is truly enormous so we’ll take a stab at the opportunities in for us EMC and wireless folks. In any case, this field holds the promise for a lot of new opportunities to engage across many EMC disciplines.

Over the next series of Reality Engineering, we’ll take a further look how 5G and IoT are shaping up.

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One of the big pushes is to define so-called “Verticals” that can adopt 5G techniques and technology. Some of the potential verticals include:

  • Agriculture
  • Robotics
  • Health
  • Education
  • Manufacturing
  • Vehicles
  • Entertainment
  • Logistics
  • And more!

Under each of the verticals are so-called “Use Cases,” which are discrete implementation of IoT in the particular vertical. An example of this may be in the agriculture sector where a grain combine, fitted with GPS and various sensors, uses a cellular link to communicate back to the “farm” which, in turn, collects harvest data that can be used to predict and optimize yields.

Other Use Cases involve the development of Smart Cities and Smart Grids. These topics imply massive connectivity and real-time data processing and control.

Technology Wave

One of the exciting and challenging areas that is opening up is the use of millimeter wave (mmWave) frequencies and technologies. Some of the allocations, set in the 60GHz (and higher) frequencies, produce some great opportunities and design challenges for network and device designers. These frequencies have some interesting applications utilizing gigahertz-wide spectrum occupancy that can implement 7 Gbit/second data rates using 802.11ad specifications, which is truly astonishing. (See Wi-Fi Alliance.3) These frequencies are a little funny, however. For one the propagation losses are pretty high, which can be a good and bad thing (with high path loss, spectrum can be re-used in high density environments).

Because of the inherent inefficiencies in the devices used at these frequencies, the output powers are typically fairly low. This drives the need for high gain links and beam-forming antenna arrays to improve link margins. The other peculiarity of these frequencies is the scattering and reflections that occur at these frequencies; intelligent and agile device designs can take advantage of this by making the link “adaptive,” meaning that the beam-forming algorithm will adjust to changes in the link conditions, which is critical in mobile applications where the RF environment is constantly changing.

V2X: Vehicle to Everything

One other broad use case of the Internet of Things is the development of autonomous vehicles. Self-driving cars, drones, robotics, vacuum cleaners, lawn mowers, you name it, will take advantage of 5G connectivity. The critical component the 5G development is the drive to reduce latency signal delay) across the end-to-end connections to “things.” Latency is super-important when control over moving objects in a physical environment can be a challenge; remotely-controlled devices must be able to sense and respond to changes in objects’ positions in their vicinity. Autonomous devices must, too, be “self-actualized” and learn the composition of their physical environment.

Adaptive and “smart” antenna arrays will be necessary to remote sense; radar applications will become more sophisticated will take advantage of “massive MIMO” arrays for agile and stable communications and sensing.

Systems Thinking

One of the challenges facing the development of a “5G Roadmap,” which is the end-objective of the ComSoc’s initiative is to develop system-level plans and architectures.

The rollout of 5G and IoT will continue to push the “Cloudization” of data, much of which will be benign and, frankly uninteresting, but a lot of which will be used to learn and expand understanding of behaviors—which can be a good or bad thing. One of the system issues is the push for processing out to the edge of the Cloud, which is a key structural component of IoT. To reduce the latency, IoT devices may be massively connected to other IoT devices, which can allow the groups of devices to participate in computational and communications exchanges. This has the intended effect to relieve some of the stress on the big Cloud computing ‘cores.’

The other critical aspect of the system-piece is security. Already, there are vulnerabilities that have been exploited because of weak or non-existent protections on IoT devices. A clear objective of IoT designers must be security and the public’s active understanding about their role. Education is a necessary part of the socieity’s implementation and adoption of 5G & IoT solutions.


Our standards community is a key stakeholder in the concurrent development of 5G & IoT. Everything from architecture to the physical layer has to be considered. This, too, is an area where our compliance community can take a strong role. EMC/Wireless, for example figures prominently in the development of 5G. Topics such as interference mitigation, spectrum contention, physical plant protection, health effects of RF energy and just a few examples of the topics that can be layered onto the standards cake.

The IEEE EMC Society is already engaged in the area of IoT through that initiative. Further engagement in all things 5G will both inform and assist the enormous effort being mounted to the massive connectivity that is envisioned.

The next couple of years—indeed, the next thirty—promise to be very interesting.


  1. We discussed IoT in the November 2016 issue of In Compliance Magazine. See page 14 to read “Tao Bao and the Internet of Things” or read the column online.


author_violette-mike2Mike Violette is Director at-large with the EMC Society and supports the EMCS to IEEE’s IoT initiatives Mike can be reached at

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