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The future of IoT

21/04/17Science & Technology

The 5G Infrastructure Association discusses the internet of things and the support offered by its public private partnership

WE live in a time of convergence with digital technologies. It started with the adoption of cloud services paradigms, together with virtualisation, ‘softwarisation’, and networking-related technologies. The resulting information and communication technologies convergence was then extended to another convergence with operational technologies, related to ‘vertical’ sectors such as manufacturing, energy, automotive and others. The vision of the fifth generation of telecommunications technologies (5G), promoted by the 5G Public Private Partnership (5G PPP), embraces those major innovations and evolutions, targeting the support of massive broadband traffic and services but also massive – as well as critical – machine-type communications.

In parallel, the internet of things (IoT) has been rapidly evolving from simple, connected objects such as video cameras and sensors or actuators in the home or in the city, towards complex systems and architectures influenced by the same waves of innovation and transformation as those handled by 5G. Not only are more and more devices connected, but their features and the information they exchange are becoming more complex and critical. The demand for a more interoperable, reliable and trustworthy infrastructure, with faster interactions between the devices and with the remote data-centric system, is increasing.

The previous generations of technologies, starting with 2G and the first mobile phones until 4G and its variants today, had focused on increasing the bandwidth available, and thus the capacity and speed of the network, allowing videos to be displayed on mobiles devices. 5G opens the capacity to better serve vertical sectors, including mission-critical needs as well as end-to-end architecture, even integrating mobile edge computing (MEC). 5G is a natural candidate for integrating existing technologies and their evolutions into a single IoT infrastructure superset.

5G supporting the IoT infrastructure

The 5G features will include unified radio services and integrated security that harmonise the current IoT multi-technology approach, as well as services that will support local and remote computing and storage needed by the IoT infrastructure.

5G will bring communications security, including the three security dimensions of confidentiality, integrity and availability. This will be mainly achieved through intrinsic infrastructure capabilities. It will also bring an overall architecture with distribution of root of trust and security functions such as identity and access management extended to cyber-physical systems, thus including IoT.

5G services for IoT will enable a paradigm of ‘integrated infrastructure/operations and maintenance’ (O&M), where the planning, set-up and O&M of a (complex) IoT infrastructure will be deeply intertwined with the network.

The needs of the IoT infrastructure have much in common with the scope and rationale of network function virtualisation within the network infrastructure. In a longer term perspective of infrastructure integration, it is expected that the 5G network services will be able to support some complex consumers like IoT infrastructures by leveraging on MEC.

With the collaboration and support of the 5G network services, the planning and deployment of IoT infrastructures will be flexibly streamlined through its core tiers, i.e. the local infrastructure and resources, the edge network services, and the remote services (e.g. cloud).

Addressing the needs of vertical sectors

Many sectors are now looking at 5G to provide responses to their ever-increasing IoT-related needs. This is not only a matter of technology – it is driven by the evolving needs of our society. We need to cope with new economic and societal challenges such as ageing populations, societal cohesion and sustainable development. The introduction of digital technologies in economic and societal processes is key to address those challenges.

There is clearly a common scope of 5G and IoT in the objective to serve the digital transformation of vertical sectors. What 5G brings is the intrinsic capabilities in terms of connectivity flexibility as well as security levels. It should thus address the increased risks inherent to IoT, particularly when IoT devices/termination points are the end/edge of critical systems, as most verticals rely on critical systems.

By 2020, autonomous and connected vehicles will be on the road. They need significantly improved safety and security standards and new multimodal transportation systems that will have to deal with increasingly complex road transport situations. In such a landscape, vehicles need to communicate, or rather co-operate, with each other. Improved performance in terms of reduced latency, increased reliability and higher throughput under higher mobility and connectivity density is required.

Personalised medicine will allow the transition from hospital and specialist-centred healthcare models to distributed patient-centred models. Such models will see the real-time integration of a massive number of IoT-related objects processing large amounts of data, improving the efficiency of the treatment for each individual. Health specialists will use more and more devices that may be operated remotely. This requires cutting the latency and allowing such remote usage from everywhere, while at the same time strengthening the quality of the operation thanks to augmented reality and artificial perceptions.

The energy sector will also move from a centralised to a decentralised system, where energy sources will be multiplied for both the generation and storage of power. In this instance, flexible and high-performance communication is required.

The manufacturing sector is entering a new phase called the fourth industrial revolution, or ‘industry 4.0’. Manufacturing systems need to process more assets, more volume, a broader variety of information and faster reaction times. This requires a communication layer able to cope with ultra-low latencies, ultra-high availability, reliable indoor coverage in harsh environments, and energy-efficient and ultra-low communication costs.

5G is the response to all those new requirements. Indeed, besides increasing capacity and speed like the previous generations, 5G is also looking at allowing the connection between more people and many more objects, as well as at saving energy, decreasing the latency, and increasing the reliability. Its architecture will accommodate a wide range of use cases with advanced requirements, especially in terms of latency, resilience, coverage and bandwidth.

Cities, as one of the primary beneficiaries of this evolution, will benefit from innovative solutions using interconnected ecosystems where components from various sectors (energy, mobility, buildings, water management, lighting, waste management, environment, etc.) increasingly work together for the citizens while maintaining security and privacy, and by reducing negative environmental impact.

The 5G Public Private Partnership

Begun in 2014, with 19 research and innovation projects currently running, and a total investment of up to €700m until 2020, the 5G PPP is the largest research and innovation initiative in the domain of 5G in the world. It currently gathers more than 160 organisations, including companies, large and small, and universities and research institutes, in a co-operative effort co-ordinated at the European level by both the European Commission and the private industry, the latter through the 5G Infrastructure Association.

In line with the requirements expressed for 5G from various domains, the second phase of the 5G PPP, which will start in June 2017, will see a large increase in the involvement of stakeholders from the vertical sectors. The number of participants is expected to at least double, indicating a strong contribution from stakeholders from those vertical sectors. Indeed, after a first phase dedicated to research and innovation around 5G technologies and architecture, pilot trials are now about to begin in various sectors. The second phase will pave the way for the large-scale pilots planned in the third, making the ‘European trials roadmap’, which has already been announced at the Mobile World Congress 2017 and is currently being finalised, a reality.


By working closely with stakeholders from vertical sectors such as automotive, manufacturing, health, media and entertainment, energy and others, the telecommunications players involved in the 5G PPP are opening an entirely new level playing field for IoT-related solutions to be invented and deployed in Europe and beyond. A number of verticals will indeed benefit from the powerful 5G-IoT infrastructure integration, e.g. automotive, health, smart factory, smart building, and several silos in a smart neighbourhood/city context.

When 5G starts to be deployed, it will allow IoT to be extended from its current niche market up to market deployment in many domains. Thanks to 5G, IoT will evolve not only in scale but also in complexity and openness in terms of complexity, from sensor-based systems up to large, secure, mission-critical systems; and in openness, from proprietary and dedicated solutions to generic and open architectures. The 5G infrastructure will offer a global standard for low power and large coverage connectivity, while allowing economies of scale, compared to proprietary solutions. The 5G architecture may then support a global IoT control engine with unified authentication, security, billing, and service-level agreement engines, transforming the network infrastructure from a data highway to a supervision and orchestration platform, enabling IoT industries to deploy innovative services in many different sectors of activity.

Some parts of this article refer to White Papers released by the 5G Infrastructure Association, see


Nicola Ciulli

Emmanuel Dotaro

Jacques Magen

Members of the Board of the 5G Infrastructure Association

5G Public-Private Partnership 

This article will appear in Pan European Networks: Smart Cities 1, which will be published in May 2017.