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7th May 2024

IoT Connectivity - Which route is best for you?

Clients who come to us to work on their IoT device, will at some point need to make a decision on how they want their data transmitting.

Like most aspects of product design there are pros on cons to each connectivity solution available to them. If you find yourself weighing up the differences and then having to decide between 4G or 5G… Do not fret we have the ultimate IoT electronic product design connectivity guide for you…


The International Telecommunication Union (ITU) has grouped the main services for mobile communications in three distinct categories.  These categories are classified according to the network requirements and the technical objectives and the types of services they can offer.


Enhanced Mobile Broadband (eMBB):

To satisfy the chronic hunger for faster mobile broadband speeds, operators are seeking to improve data throughput, reduce latency, improve coverage and increase the capacity of cellular networks. This should pave the way to rich content streaming and enhanced cloud possibilities, which are sure to excite consumers.

eMBB services will demand a lot of bandwidth and will require high transmission rates to provide excellent coverage and uniform connectivity everywhere. They are designed to cater for HD video, virtual reality services, or augmented reality services.


Ultra Reliable Low Latency Communications (uRLLC):

uRLLC, is a subset of the 5G network architecture which ensures more efficient scheduling of data transfers, achieving shorter transmissions through a larger subcarrier and scheduling overlapping transmissions.

These services not only require high data transmission speed but also high reliability and low latency.  This way, they will suit monitoring and remote-control critical processes in real-time.

Examples include: industrial control processes, sensor networks, automation of energy distribution, and remote control of critical equipment.  This equipment may be used for e-surgery and health services, autonomous driving, handling of heavy vehicles or machinery in general, etc.

Cellular networks have not served public safety and mission-critical communications well in the past. Low latency is necessary in smart city and autonomous driving applications, for example, and are reliant on coverage in order to function. uRLLC is intended to support devices in applications with stringent reliability requirements.


Massive Machine Type Communications (mMTC):

These types of communication services will provide wide coverage and deep indoor and outdoor penetration for hundreds of thousands of devices per square km.

mMTC 5G connectivity improves wireless performance in a wide range of applications. Smart cities use a high number of sensors to monitor utilities such as water, gas and electricity and waste management. An example of IoT devices in this context could be fill-level sensors on bins that enable waste management teams to only visit bins that need emptying. This would reduce operating costs, save fuel, and reduce emissions as waste collection services are targeted to where they’re needed.

Within smart cities, sensors can also be placed strategically around the city to collect data, which is sent back to a central server and analysed to present meaningful information.

For example, combining and analysing data from thousands of traffic cameras, radar traffic counters, and air quality sensors could help to reduce traffic congestion and improve air quality for residents in a smart city.

Other examples of such services suited to mMTC include intelligent agriculture, intelligent supply chain (logistics), fleet monitoring and management, as well, of course, as intelligent/smart cities implementations, etc.


5G the facilitator

If 4G was intended to deliver broadband-quality performance, then 5G is tackling a much larger agenda.

Each of these three areas of connectivity above require different, and somewhat conflicting, RF parameters. For example, eMBB requires high data throughput, whereas URLLC devices require deeper coverage and lighting quick response times. In order to facilitate each of these three requirements, the air interface which sends and transmits data requires reinvention. This is where the new radio in 5G comes in.


5G and 4G LTE technologies provide different benefits suited to a range of different applications. 5G technology is designed to deliver super-fast speeds, low-latency, and greater bandwidth; while 4G LTE is well established and widely available, with a strong track record for reliability and network stability.

5G networks offer new services, average 1 Gbps speeds and long-range, reliable coverage. However, for most applications, the speeds and bandwidths offered by 4G LTE network provision are generally sufficient to meet user demand, such as low-density low data rates industrial Internet of Things (IoT) applications.


Which G is for you?

With the arrival of 4G, it was not long before 3G was considered an inferior network. However, in the case of 5G and 4G, they are set to work alongside each other, serving different purposes, rather than 5G entirely replacing previous connections.

In terms of performance and features, 5G and 4G LTE networks can be compared according to their respective speed, bandwidth, latency, and device density.


Speed and bandwidth

Download- and upload-speeds are often the critical parameters that separate each generation of mobile technology from the previous one. 4G was significantly faster than 3G when it was introduced, offering theoretical speeds of up to 100 Mbps. Although, in real terms, we tend to see peak speeds of around 35 Mbps.

5G networks have much faster connectivity thanks to the use of mmWave frequency bands. On these high-frequency bands, we can expect average speeds of 1 Gbps, a significant increase compared to 4G. Even on the lower frequency bands, real-world data shows speeds from 50 Mbps to 3 Gbps, still considerably faster than a 4G connection.

Bandwidth is the maximum volume of data that can be transmitted across the network at any given time. For example, a high bandwidth is required to stream HD video across several devices at the same time. 5G offers high bandwidth capacity as it uses multiple-input multiple-output (MIMO) technology. This uses more antennas and complex algorithms to emit more targeted transmission lines. This means a greater capacity and improved bandwidth for more devices, when compared to 4G LTE.


Latency and device density

Latency relates to the delay between a user action and the response. For example, when clicking on a web link, there is a small delay before the site responds. For 4G networks, this delay is in the region of 50 ms. With the introduction of 5G and ultra-reliable low-latency connectivity (URLLC), the delay will be less than 1 ms. This enables a wide range of applications that require real-time communications, such as driverless cars or machine automation.

Device density is another key differentiator between 4G LTE and 5G technologies. This indicates how many devices the network can support across a given area. With 4G, the network can provide connectivity for around 2000 devices per square kilometre. With 5G, this is increased to 1 million devices/km2. The benefits for applications that require many separate devices, such as IoT, are huge.


And the winner is…

5G technology promises exciting opportunities for the future of cellular communications. However, 4G LTE is by no means obsolete. The reliability and coverage of 4G, coupled with the lower cost of 4G devices means that it will be a long time before it is fully replaced by 5G.

In terms of hardware development, choosing between 4G LTE and 5G technology when designing a new device is very much dependent on the intended application and consumer market. For devices designed to operate in Western Europe or North America, where 5G rollout is already underway, developing for 5G will be the best way to futureproof a device.

However, it may take some time before other global markets catch up.