Digi International on 2021: The IoT network will take centre stage, but will it run on 5G?
In the past few years, we’ve seen exponential growth in the adoption of industrial IoT devices and connections. This year, in addition to that surging growth, the Covid-19 pandemic has spurred organizations to accelerate their adoption of remote management for these deployments. Whether they are updating configurations, providing security patches, or connecting valuable field data to centralized tools, this strategy must account for a massive number of widely distributed devices.
In 2021, we are on the precipice of a new era marked by remote monitoring and management, and centralized control over the complete IoT device portfolio. This will require that organizations abandon the familiar concept of merely focusing on a collection of IoT devices, and instead direct their attention to their entire IoT network.
Alone, a single IoT device doesn’t necessarily provide much business value. Rather, it is the entire IoT network that delivers the most value. While it may seem like a subtle shift, this approach changes how organizations view, interact with, and leverage the power of their deployments. In 2021, IoT budgets and plans must adjust accordingly, with new emphasis on software that maximizes the capabilities of IoT hardware at the edge.
In 2021, organizations keeping pace with expanding networks will adopt a holistic device-management platform. We’ll see a broad embrace of cloud-based features enabling organizations to monitor, manage, and secure entire IoT networks at massive scale. This toolset enables organizations to simplify critical, but time-consuming tasks, from updating firmware and scheduling operations to maintaining compliance and countering ever-present security threats. The IoT network and its remote management approach ensure that deployments are accessible and available, which improves solution value, reduces long-term costs and optimizes operations.
Paired with next-generation connectivity, the centralized management approach positions organizations for the future, right? Yes and no. The hype surrounding 5G started so early in the technology’s lifecycle that, in some ways, it already feels like old news – even though, in reality, it’s just beginning to scratch the surface of its truly great potential as roll-outs begin to gain momentum. The truth is, we’re still in ramp-up mode, which is a crucial consideration for 2021.
In reality, LTE connectivity still provides ample functionality for the majority of applications while we wait for 5G consumer adoption to generate momentum resulting in more ubiquitous and cost-effective 5G networks. There are certainly numerous 5G use cases that we can expect to see and that businesses should consider in 2021:
First, 5G-powered enterprise connectivity will become a significant play in 2021. 5G provides the bandwidth to serve as the primary source of connectivity across multiple sites – from corporate headquarters to offsite data centers, and it can also serve as a supercharged backup option. This requires physical locations aligned with 5G’s currently urban-centric footprint. Some organizations might embrace sub-6 5G connectivity due to mmWave’s challenges penetrating hard surfaces, but even this implementation positions customers for faster adoption of future innovations and a future-proof network based on emerging technology.
Public transit provides another ideal application for 5G in 2021. Many transit organizations already rely on cellular deployments for both passenger connectivity (on buses and light rail) and administrative applications like telemetry transmission. As municipalities continue embracing Smart City initiatives and seek to gradually draw citizens back into everyday urban life, many will see 5G in transportation as an opportunity to highlight those efforts while setting themselves up for future developments.
In these cases, organizations must make significant investments in higher-priced equipment and pricey installations so they can be poised to enjoy the benefits of early adoption. For some, that value equation makes sense, but considering cost, many organizations will continue to rely on LTE for cellular connectivity until prices fall. Preparing those networks for a 5G migration – with module-based cellular connectivity upgrades, for example – is likely to be a gradual process.
5G is built on LTE underpinnings, and LTE will continue to thrive as it continues delivering the speed and bandwidth to enable most IoT applications today and in the immediate future. With this coexistence of LTE and 5G networks, we are well positioned for an orderly transition, and 2021 will see organizations begin migration work in earnest, validating applications and business models for a 5G future.
Randall Kerr has three decades of professional experience in the fields of education, IT management, infrastructure design and implementation, technical consulting, and sales engineering. As Director of Wireless Product Management for Digi International, he works with account teams identifying sales opportunities and designing technical solutions that resolve customer business issues. Randall serves the North and South American markets, serving as a liaison between customers and sales, marketing, product management, engineering, and technical support.