Jan 27 2022

Fact or Fallacy: How Smart Can You Get Without 5G?

The Internet of Things largely does not require 5G to deliver on the potential of smart city applications.

Smart city development depends on the expansion of 5G technology. “Cities around the globe are adding technology to improve environmental, financial and social aspects of urban life. A city that uses technology in such a way, to improve the lives of its citizens and improve communication between residents and city officials, is known as a ‘smart city,’” according to ZDNet.

Still, there are many things a city can do to be smart without 5G. Here we explore some myths surrounding 5G capabilities and smart cities by understanding which claims about 5G are fallacies and which are facts.

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Fallacy: Cities Cannot Be Smart Without 5G

While 5G is not a requirement for smart cities, this next-generation cellular technology will create opportunities for cities to use data and Internet of Things devices and sensors to improve people’s lives. Many U.S. municipalities have launched digitalization initiatives over the past few years, but none have built a fully operational smart city. Smart cities need robust wireless networks to transmit data collected by IoT sensors and to support millions of connected devices. 5G, which offers great coverage density, is necessary for high-bandwidth and low-latency smart city applications.

Fact: 5G Will CoExist with Other Wireless Technologies

5G will have to coexist with other wireless technologies for a variety of use cases when building smart cities. Whether it’s inside buildings together with Wi-Fi, in rural areas together with high-capacity satellites or in heavily populated cities together with fiber-optic networks, 5G will complement rather than replace these other forms of mobile broadband. Although 5G rollout is underway, it’s not expected to be widespread in the U.S. until at least 2025. Before 5G can reach the scale needed to support smart cities, 5G networks will have to become open, interoperable and standards-based. This will promote innovation and competition, making 5G more affordable to deploy.

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Fallacy: 5G Is a Faster Version of 4G

While that’s somewhat true, 5G is a new technology that uses new frequencies and systems. It uses high-band spectrum and can transmit much more data than 4G. In fact, 5G was designed to be nearly 100 times faster than 4G. Latency, or how long it takes devices to communicate with wireless networks, is much lower with 5G. Another key differentiator: 5G is designed to be cloud-native and software-based, which means network functions that once depended on physical hardware can be offloaded to the cloud, according to the BSA Foundation.

Fact: Autonomous Vehicles Need 5G Connections

Autonomous vehicles must be able to operate safely and independently without human involvement in areas that have a high density of cars, such as highways and cities. To communicate with road infrastructure, self-driving vehicles rely on vehicle-to-everything technology that requires greater data transmission rates, greater reliability, low latency and response times of a few milliseconds. Today’s carriers and car manufacturers are building 5G-enabled autonomous vehicles integrated with these technologies.

Accelerated deployment of 5G wireless networks is necessary to bring autonomous vehicles to the masses. 5G will provide additional network capacity with the new frequency bands and the ability to manage many connected objects, including cars, sensors and infrastructure.

Zeus Kerravala
5G will have to co-exist with other wireless technologies for a variety of use cases when building smart cities.”

Zeus Kerravala Principal Analyst, ZK Research

Fallacy: Smart Buildings Depend on 5G

Smart buildings require the integration of legacy infrastructure with IoT sensors and apps, cloud services and next-generation wireless networks to access large amounts of data in real time. 5G networks can handle more connections per tower. Additionally, 5G’s lower power requirements make it easier and more economical to deploy mobile battery-powered devices inside buildings. In dense urban environments, 5G will be deployed with wireless technologies such as Wi-Fi 6, which is comparable in throughput, reliability and latency.

Fact: 5G Enables Edge Computing

As 5G connects IoT devices and sensors, there will be exponential growth of data at the edge. Technologies such as edge computing and network slicing maximize the performance of wireless networks by processing data locally.

5G dramatically reduces latency and increases data processing speeds. Therefore, 5G and edge computing serve as complementary technologies that improve app performance and bring computing capabilities closer to the end user, according to Deloitte. As 5G networks continue to be built out, edge computing can be used with 5G and IoT for many smart city applications.

EXPLORE: How will 5G networks enhance smart city solutions? 

Fact: 5G Requires Massive Amounts of Energy

At first glance, 5G consumes a lot more power than 4G. In addition, energy use is expected to increase as IoT skyrockets over the next decade. Over time, however, 5G advancements will make the technology more efficient. Research shows a 5G base station consumes three times more energy on average today than a 4G base station.

To reduce 5G costs, carriers will probably deploy small transmitters that consume less power, but they will need more transmitters to cover large areas. Therefore, 5G small cells will likely become a common feature on city lampposts and other fixtures.

RunningFan/Getty Images

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