CES: 5G and the Internet of Things Take First Steps – Part 2

Yesterday we noted that recent years have seen the Internet of Things and next-generation 5G networks evolving on parallel tracks. From autonomous vehicles to smart factories and wearables, 5G promises to super-charge speed, low latency and reliability. As carriers begin to introduce 5G networks, and we gear up for next month’s CES in Las Vegas, it’s time to check-in about the state of the relationship between these two technologies. Today, we’ll address the convergence of 5G and IoT in the enterprise space.

Planning for this convergence has already been afoot for some time. Google made the news when it launched its Sidewalk Labs in Toronto with the idea of creating a model smart city. But it’s not alone. In Pittsburgh, the Metro21: Smart Cities Institute at Carnegie Mellon University has been pursuing robust digital solutions for over 20 years, originally focused on intelligent transportation and evolving into infrastructure in concert with municipalities.

According to Metro21 executive director Karen Lightman (above), her group and the university, working with Pittsburgh and Allegheny County and funded by foundations, has launched 50 projects and several startups since 2016. 

One of those is RoadBotics, a collaboration between the university and the city, that received Series A funding to launch a project to keep track of city streets and infrastructure via the use of smartphone cameras pointed outside of vehicles that take regular routes to keep track of city streets and infrastructure. 

“Machine learning algorithms can be used for the improvement of public services without taking anyone’s job away,” explained Lightman. “It makes the public safety department’s job more effective, equal and transparent-based on data.” RoadBotics is now in use in 200 cities around the world. 

“We work with the city, they identify a problem, and I go to the CM faculty and present the problem to solve,” she said. “We’re more than a think tank, because we’re testing and launching startup companies, creating software for public safety and public works department. It’s a new operating system for government.”

Lightman will be speaking at CES on a Wednesday January 8 panel on “Blending New Tech and Aging Infrastructure in Smart Cities.”

Also part of IoT, wearables have been booming. According to IDC, global shipments of wearable devices totaled 84.5 million units in Q3 2019, a year-over-year increase of 94.6 percent and “a new record for shipments in a single quarter.” 

But the marriage of wearables and 5G isn’t imminent, says UK-based 5G technical writer Jamie Carter. “We don’t yet know what a 5G chipset in a 5G wearable would look like,” he said. “It’s also likely that wearables would attempt to use Wi-Fi hotspots for some applications that require something more than 4G speeds, but not as much as 5G.”

Eventually, he said, we’ll see “truly wearable” antennas for clothes and fabrics that will “allow a device to be connected to a wireless network.” Mobile wireless charging of devices connected to a 5G network is “another innovation that would allow wearable devices to be even smaller,” he said. 

“It’s also possible that 5G could enable wearable devices to become a key aspect of autonomous driving,” he added. “5G’s high-speed connectivity won’t be relevant, but ultra-reliable, low-latency real-time communication will mean a wearable could alert an autonomous car to the presence of a pedestrian.”

Although, “at present, wearables have limited potential,” but, with 5G, we’ll start to see “huge potential.” Once 5G smart clothing is viable, he predicts, we’ll start to see something even more futuristic: 5G-enabled body implants.