21 Dec 2015

4G, 5G & IoT Predictions for 2016

Ian Poole looks at the communications industry & talks to industry leaders to see what will be happening with 4G, 5G and IoT in 2016.

2016 will be a big year for the communications industry. With the Internet of Things, IoT taking hold and 5G now starting to take shape in terms of the technology and standardisation, a lot is happening.

Predicting where IoT and 5G will develop is a little more difficult. Often general trends can be predicted, but sometimes particular applications take off in an unexpected manner. For example SMS texts were only added as an afterthought and it was not expected there would be much uptake. Now billions of texts are sent each day.

2016 will be a critical year for both IoT and for 5G, both individually and together as they both have much in common.

4G developments

As 4G is now established and taken for granted as an established technology, it is easy to write it off in terms of development.

Nothing could be further from the truth. A lot of work is still going on in the standards committees to extend the capabilities of 4G.

Rel 13 of the standards is due out early in 2016 and this will include a variety of enhancements and improvements to 4G. Some of the enhancements for Rel 13 include the use of unlicensed spectrum in a capability known as LTE-LAA or LTE-U. This will provide the technical capability for operators to use unlicensed spectrum in the 5GHz band to provide additional capability.

In 3GPP Release 13, the carrier-aggregation framework will be extended to handle up to 32 carriers in both the uplink and downlink. This means that, in principle, LTE terminals will be able to handle bandwidths up to 640MHz, part of which can be located in unlicensed spectrum.

Other enhancements for 4G LTE that will occur in 2016 include multi-antenna enhancements as well as reductions in latency.

One main area of interest, particularly in terms of IoT applications is the set of enhancements to Cat 0 for M2M applications. Capabilities like discontinuous reception to increase battery life, and the specifications for low complexity UEs. This is still under discussion, so it will be interesting to see how this is implemented as this will have a huge impact on the capability for IoT devices using a cellular bearer.

5G timescales

5G is an area of development that is receiving a huge level of interest. Work on this new mobile communications standard is just beginning and as a result there is a lot of industry discussion about everything from the high level performance figures to the radio access network that will be needed, along with the network and backhaul technologies.

Predictions for the way in which 5G will develop will be hard because it is still at the stage of initial requirements definition. It has been said that 1G and 2G provided basic voice communications, 3G and 4G provided mobile broadband and now 5G will be aimed at providing overall connectivity. This will make 5G break some very new barriers.

In terms of the timescales, 3GPP Rel 13 is due in early 2016 and Rel 14 by the middle of 2017. Some of the direction will be seen for the way things are moving towards 5G will be seen in these releases. The Phase 1 Specification for 5G will not be seen until late in 2018, but a lot of groundwork will be set in place in the releases leading up to it. Topics like the refinement of Cat 0 for M2M communications and the like.

Channel modelling for frequencies greater than 6GHz has already started in earnest and is now under the standards committees after the 5G workshop late in 2015. This was held in Phoenix Arizona, US in September 2015.

2016 will also see the formal start to the 5G scope and requirements assembly. As such 5G work will start to move ahead under the auspices of the standards bodies rather than by a variety of independent organisations.

IoT predictions

As with all new technologies, there is a lot of hype associated with it. The same is true for the Internet of Things.

Talking about this approach, Macario Namie, VP of Strategy, Jasper said: “We stop counting the “Things” — 10 billion, 20 billion, maybe even 50 billion! Depending on the analyst firm you talk to, you’ll get all kinds of different numbers about the number of devices that will be connected by IoT in the years to come. But the Internet of Things is not about “Things”, it’s about service. 2016 will be the year where the industry stops paying attention to just the number of devices connected, and instead starts tracking the variety of new services enabled by those connected devices. In fact, even IDC in its recent predictions released this week added an amendment to their IoT device count predictions and said, "By 2018, there will be 22 billion Internet of Things devices installed, driving the development of more than 200,000 new IoT apps and services."

IoT developments

One of the IoT predictions for 2016 is that the Internet of Things will start to be seen as an application that is really happening. There has been a lot of talk about it being a technology of the future. This is true, but it is also here now. In 2016, it there will be far more real applications for the IoT becoming a reality.

Commenting on the way the Internet of Things is developing, Macario Namie, of Jasper said: “For the first time, more new cars will be connected than not – In 2015, GM announced that every one of its new vehicles in the US would ship with 4G-LTE embedded. In 2016, we’ll see that trend expand greatly, and for the first time, a majority of new vehicles produced in the US will be connected cars. We will not hit the same tipping point for vehicles globally in 2016, but the strong growth of connected cars globally will likely lead to connected cars being the norm for all new vehicles produced worldwide within the next several years.”

Much of this will be driven by established wireless technologies including Bluetooth , Wi-Fi and cellular. Some of the other technologies will take a little more time to establish and for developers to trust that they will be there for the long term.

Commented Namie: “Low Power Wireless Area Network (LPWAN) technologies will NOT go mainstream – While LPWAN technologies hold a lot of promise for IoT, it is still the early days, and wide deployment and adoption will not be seen in 2016. Instead, 2016 will be the year of LPWAN partnerships, consolidation, and marketing wars to determine which technology will be victorious.”

IoT & Big Data

Another area that is likely to see a huge amount of development is associated with Big Data. This is the concept of monitoring systems in an almost analogue fashion can lead to some much greater insights than would otherwise be possible. Yes, huge amounts of data are needed and these need to be collected, stored and then processed, but in many instances these can enable much deeper analysis to be performed.

Commenting on this, Rahman Jamal, Global Technology & Marketing Director for National Instruments said: “Everyone struggles with what the convergence of the physical world with the Internet actually means. It is the next big thing, made of a multitude of things outfitted with hundreds of thousands of sensors with new levels of embedded intelligence that gather massive amounts of Big Analog Data and transmit that data over hyperfast, wireless networks. And this will boil down to having the right information at the right time to make the right decision.”

Analysis of Big Data is a key issue. Many companies are able to collect data, but it remains unused. Said Jamal: “Sensors are the sense organs of the Industrial IoT, making best-in-class measurement and analytic solutions a fundamental requirement. In particular, edge analytics and smart enterprise management and analytics become center-stage. And here lies the actual solution for Big Analog Data.”

It is clearly not possible to have hundreds of thousands of sensors connected via wires and therefore wireless connection using the various IoT standards will be essential. Eyes are on 5G to help solve this, but it is necessary to ensure that he 5G standards and various hardware and software elements are fully evaluated and tested before any standards are confirmed and any equipment is launched.

Commenting on the challenges of 5G, Jamal of National Instruments said: “The advancement of 5G does not come without challenges. So how do we begin to solve these challenges? The answer lies in a faster path to prototyping 5G – a platform-based design transcending the expensive, time-consuming traditional approaches, enabling wireless experts to test experimental ideas using real systems in real-world scenarios.”

IoT security

IoT security is an area that will receive far more attention in 2016. IoT security is a much bigger issue than many people give it credit, at least considering the lax approaches being adopted by many. Implementing security is not easy, but it is very necessary.

Not only could this be used by criminals, but it could also be used by hostile countries, and it has the capability of bringing large areas of infrastructure to a halt.

Commenting on the examples of vulnerabilities already seen, Rupert Baines, CEO of UltraSoC said: “Examples abound: Chevrolet cars being hacked; Smart TVs hacked to act as wireless microphones & cameras; internet fridges giving unencrypted access to your email password and home network; a connected insulin pump that could be instructed to deliver a lethal dose; and many more… All are only too easy to do. That is sobering, and it is shocking that so few IoT companies have taken this seriously.”

Baines continued: “There are now organisations (e.g. the NMI’s IoT Security Foundation) trying to address this. Given the cost, power constraints of IoT and then the (essential) security, a lot of this needs to be baked in with hardware level security: we simply cannot rely on software.”

Accordingly it is necessary to adopt security measures from the outset, implementing it in both the software and hardware arenas. On example of this is the bare Metal Security offering from UltraSoC that provides a very secure base on which to build security into SoCs.

Possibly one area of major concern is the products from small companies that do not have the resources to implement security to the degree that is required. These could be particularly vulnerable.

In view of the growth of IoT and the broadening of the market, the issue of security will come to the fore in 2016 far more than it has been in 2015. Sadly, part of the reason for the higher profile is likely to be further high profile examples of vulnerabilities being and possibly even examples of hacking.

Talking about security, Namie of Jasper said: “In 2015 the market saw tremendous growth in the number of IoT devices, and that proliferation gave rise to concerns about the security of IoT. 2016 will be the year where IoT security takes centre stage, and the winners will be the solution providers who can help enterprises not only deliver connected services, but secure those services, too.”


It is always difficult to make predictions for the coming year. Making predictions for 4G, 5G and the IoT for 2016 is no different. It will be interesting to see how the markets develop. In particular it will be interesting to see how 5G develops as this could add a completely new dimension to wireless communications.

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About the author

Ian Poole is the editor of Radio-Electronics.com. Having studied at University College London to gain his degree he went on to undertake a career in electronic development working for companies including Racal. He became the hardware development manager at Racal Instruments where he was in charge of the hardware development activities within the company. Later moving in to freelance work as a consultant he also developed Radio-Electronics.com to become one of the leading publications for professional electronics engineers. He is also a Fellow of the Institution of Engineering and Technology and is the author of over 20 books.

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