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Smarter, Faster, Connected with 5G and Intelligent Networks

Intelligent networks

Recently on the IoT Chat, we hosted Martin Garner and Bola Rotibi from CCS Insight to discuss the company’s annual IoT predictions report, specifically looking at the edge and AI spaces. But there was so much about 5G and networks in the report and in that conversation. So this time we decided to focus specifically on the rise of 5G and those intelligent networks with Ian Fogg, Director of Networks at CCS Insight.

Pretty much all industries around the world need to connect to the internet these days. They want fast, reliable, real-time information, and that requires the network to be fast, too. More and more intelligent devices connect to the network as well, and the grid needs to handle all that connectivity. At the same time, industries and companies try to meet sustainability goals. Could 5G—even 6G—and AI actually help achieve those goals? Let’s find out (Video 1).

Video 1. CCS Insight’s Ian Fogg discusses recent evolutions in the 5G and IoT network space and what’s still to come in 2024 and beyond. (Source:

How has the landscape for 5G and network changed over the past few years?

5G first launched back in 2019, in a really very early version of the standard. What we’ve seen more recently is tremendous enhancement in what it is capable of. One of the things we’ve seen it used for recently, for example, is private networks. 5G was deployed in 45% of the private networks we saw announced in 2023.

We’re also seeing non-terrestrial networks, which are part of the upcoming Release 17 of the 5G standard. By 2027 we expect that 15% of smartphone users will have satellite-enabled devices. Now, what does that mean for IoT? Well, what has often happened in the past is that the consumer space has driven innovation that then gets reused for other things because there’s a commonality. Once that satellite capability is built, the satellite players can choose to support more than one type of customer.

Another thing we’ve seen happen in the past year is the announcement of the OpenAPI Initiative, which is something the GSMA—the operators organization—is very big on. And that includes network APIs, too, that manage network quality and other network-type settings.

What is the next step for 5G in these IoT networks?

One of the predictions we have is that by 2025 a digital marketplace for app-based network functionality will offer more than a hundred versions of network capabilities and APIs. We’ve seen some small initiatives already, but we expect it to expand tremendously over the next 18 months or so.

We’re also expecting that hybrid private-public 5G will emerge as the dominant option for private networks by 2030. A standalone private network uses a dedicated network just for that offering. But a hybrid solution uses some of the new capabilities of standalone 5G and network slicing to provide a quality of service that is different from what other people using the wider cellular 5G network are getting. That bridges the gap between locations where an enterprise may have a dedicated private network but wants people or devices to move between dedicated sites—a hybrid solution. It’ll happen gradually over time, but that’s something we see becoming very dominant by 2030.

How can 5G and the network edge keep up with the demand of IoT?

I think this hybrid capability is particularly important here, because it does bridge that gap between a dedicated private network, which is maybe in a port or in a manufacturing facility or some other limited location, and the need for a high quality of service across a wide range of areas.

One of the other things we see as important, and increasingly so, will be using AI in a whole range of areas and types of products in different parts of the network. We think that AI will enable 5G networks to significantly improve their availability, perhaps even to move beyond five-nines availability, by managing the traffic patterns better and by making sure that the network is offering a good enough quality of service as well as managing outages or downtime issues.

Talk more about how AI can be used to enhance 5G and IoT networks.

The network guys are using AI on all kinds of areas. For example, they’re using it to improve RAN management. As we’ve gone from original 4G to 4G Advanced or LT Advanced, and then on to 5G, and then on to Release 17 of 5G, and onward, the complexity of the RAN has gotten much greater, and there are more settings that need to be managed. The interaction between the base stations, between different frequency bands, is much more complex, and AI is a key way of enabling that ongoing RAN management to improve the coverage and the performance.

We see AI being very important in the Open RAN rollout, too. Historically, service providers have bought a base station from a network vendor, and everything is basically integrated and included from that same vendor. The concept of Open RAN is that there are interfaces within the base station so that a service provider can mix and match different suppliers. And we think the complexity there is something that AI can help improve upon.

Green issues are another thing we think is interesting and important: hitting carbon targets, managing energy costs on the network. If you’re a service provider, you want to drop energy usage while maintaining the network experience that users need. So, how far can you cut back network resources and still offer that? RAN optimization is a place that a machine learning tool can help. And one of our predictions is that by 2025 a combination of intelligent radio access network technology, automation, and AI-driven power-down techniques will enable at least three leading operators to bring forward their carbon-neutral targets by several years.

As we’ve gone from original #4G to 4G Advanced or LT Advanced, and then on to #5G, and then on to Release 17 of 5G, and onward, the complexity of the #RAN has gotten much greater. @CCSInsight via @insightdottech

How can 5G and IoT network capabilities help industries reach sustainability goals?

One of the sustainability angles here is around smart grid, because a lot of people are looking to solar power and wind power as cost-effective and versatile ways of generating green electricity. The challenge is that solar and wind power generation are not always predictable: They depend on cloud cover, on time of year, and on what the weather systems are doing at the time. And there can be times when there’s too much power being generated and you want to encourage end users to consume some of that electricity. There may be other times when you want users to drop their energy consumption because it’s too expensive or there isn’t enough green power being generated.

So we think an increased use of solar and wind power necessitates smart grid technology to manage the supply and demand, and we expect that smart grid technology will become widely adopted in most advanced economies from 2028, if not before. We can see signs of it happening even now.

How can 5G help the grid become both smarter and more sustainable at the same time?

If you take EV charging as an example, you can see a range of ways that network technology comes in to it. Many EVs have cellular capability, so the user can remotely set the power-saving modes and tell it where and when to schedule the charge. Many EV chargers in the home have a similar remote control, on Wi-Fi or something else. But then you also have smart meters in the home that typically have cellular connectivity. The power company can then monitor how much power is being used and charge people accordingly, in some cases in very granular ways.

So you can see it in in the EV connectivity, in the EV charger, in the smart meter—three different places just involved in the end user-EV charging process where you can see network technology becoming very important.

How much longer will 5G continue to be dominant?

Actually, even 4G is still important in the 5G era. In that EV scenario I mentioned, most EVs have a 4G cellular radio. You have a smart meter—it might even have a 2G radio in it. These network eras do tend to overlap. So even when 6G arrives, 5G will continue to be important. But there is absolutely work happening on 6G; we can already see 6G spectrum discussions being advanced.

There’s also work happening on the use cases for 6G. One of these is using the cellular network to sense what’s happening in a particular location. It could be sensing how much traffic there is on the roads, or sensing people walking down the pavement. You can see examples of that happening now: Some of the Wi-Fi access points can sense whether people are at home, and that’s being used as a crude alarm system.

But part of the thinking around the 6G network is that it would have a wider capability—the ability to sense things happening across large areas, across cities. And then of course that means you could draw analytics from that information and take actions on the back of it.

In terms of timescale, if you are a company looking to deploy something today, 6G isn’t probably relevant. If your product roadmap is much longer—towards 2029, 2030, or onward—then 6G should be something that’s in that roadmap. If you are a network vendor, then your R&D labs are fast and furiously working on 6G things at this moment, and you are much more advanced in your 6G thinking.

Related Content

To learn more about 5G and IoT network predictions, read the report IoT-Related Predictions for 2024 and Beyond and listen to The Rise of Intelligent Networks with 5G and IoT and Top IoT and Edge AI Predictions for 2024: With CCS Insight. For the latest innovations from CCS Insight, follow them on Twitter at @ccsinsight and on LinkedIn.

This article was edited by Erin Noble, copy editor.

About the Author

Christina Cardoza is an Editorial Director for Previously, she was the News Editor of the software development magazine SD Times and IT operations online publication ITOps Times. She received her bachelor’s degree in journalism from Stony Brook University, and has been writing about software development and technology throughout her entire career.

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