4G vs 5G for IoT and GPS Tracking - Which is better?

4G vs 5G for IoT and GPS Tracking - Which is better?
4G vs 5G for IoT and GPS Tracking - Which is better?
07Aug2019

5G networks are still in their infancy. While the next generation cellular network technology offers significant improvements to the performance of mobile cellular networks, the benefits for IoT and GPS devices are not quite as clear.

Major mobile networks and media outlets have been trumpeting the arrival of 5G - and with good reason! The 5th generation cellular network technology boasts super fast speeds, improved responsiveness and extremely low latency.

Verizon started their 5G rollout in April in select US cities, and expects to release the ultra wideband network in at least 30 cities by the end of 2019. Since August of 2018, Telstra has enabled 5G in 10 major Australian cities and is planning to add another 25 in the next 12 months. And Vodafone has already switched on their 5G network in the UK, Spain and Italy and is rolling it out in New Zealand by the end of 2019.

But 5G networks are still in their infancy, and while they may offer significant improvements to the performance of mobile cellular networks, the pros and cons of 5G for IoT and GPS devices are not quite as clear.

4G Vs 5G Networks

Speed

In theory, 5G networks will offer up to 20 times greater speeds than 4G. Data rates of up to 100MB per second could be readily available. This is perfect for streaming HD video, gaming, and other data intensive activities. Given the very low amounts of data sent by tracking and IoT devices, speed isn't so critical.

Frequency Bands

Typical 4G networks use frequencies below 6GHz, while some 5G networks may utilise frequencies ranging between 30 to 300GHz. Increasing the frequency decreases the wavelength of the signal.

Benefits of 5G frequencies include:

  • Faster data transfer.
  • ​Antennas can be made shorter, which means smaller mobile phones and other devices.
  • Supports a greater density of devices using the network without becoming cluttered, like in a city with many mobile users.

This comes with some caveats:

  • Higher frequencies do not propagate as far. 5G networks will require many cells to provide a similar level of coverage. (Think about the small 5G ‘boxes’ popping up around cities, inside train stations, etc.)
  • 5G signals are more ‘directional’, to support greater device densities. In contrast, a 4G tower beams data in all directions, which means a wider range of coverage.

But what about 4G LTE Cat-M1 and NB-IoT?

The fact that these networks are also relatively new gives us some insight into whether 5G is really applicable to tracking applications.

Typical requirements of IoT tracking applications are:

  • Sending small (often at times only a few bytes), relatively infrequent packets of data. Even when a device is updating its position every 30 seconds, it uses significantly less data than, say, streaming Netflix in HD.
  • ​Low powerBattery powered tracking devices need to last for a long time. It is not acceptable for them to go flat after a day, like your mobile phone!
  • Low cost to support the deployment of many millions of devices.
  • Wide range of coverage – Devices are deployed everywhere, not just in cities! 

Our 4G Cat-M1 and Nb-IoT devices have been specifically designed with these requirements in mind. What's NB-IoT?

Conclusions

Unless you're working with virtual reality, self-operating equipment or driverless vehicles where real-time location services are required, the speeds that 5G could potentially provide simply aren’t required for most IoT and GPS applications.

4G provides longer range, which is much more important in asset monitoring applications. At least for the next few years, 5G will not provide a wide enough area of coverage, with more focus on urban areas and city centres. In contrast, 4G Cat-M1 and Nb-IoT networks already have widespread coverage. Finally, 4G Modems, like the uBlox SARA-R410 that we use, are simpler and more affordable to manufacture, decreasing device costs.

Both 4G Cat-M1/NB-IoT and 5G networks are the latest and greatest. But as the saying goes, horses for courses: 5G is well suited for specific applications, one of which isn't tracking quite yet. In the meantime, 4G Cat-M1 and Nb-IoT networks are the way forward in the tracking space! Get in touch with our team of experts to discuss device connectivity in your country today.

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