The 5G-driven IoT will ultimately be defined by the new non-cellular 5G rather than improvements on the cellular 5G side. By Teppo Hemiä, CEO of Wirepas.

The IoT world has cried wolf for quite a long time. There have been good tries for industrial use, but nothing that would have revolutionized anything. Perhaps the biggest problem has been not being able to scale up affordably for the technologies to create any difference. Now, with a recent 5G standard update, we’ve got a chance to change the IoT the non-cellular way.

What is non-cellular 5G?

In October 2021, the world received the first ever non-cellular 5G standard. This new standard was designed specifically for IoT use. ETSI DECT-2020 New Radio (NR) was recognized by the WP5D of ITU’s Radiocommunication Sector (ITU-R) and included as part of the 5G standards in its IMT-2020 technology recommendation.

Even though it has its history in the 1990s, this new standard has been implemented using modern radio technologies, such as orthogonal frequency-division multiplexing (OFDM) modulation, efficient channel coding, and hybrid automatic repeat request (HARQ). Supporting operating channel bandwidths from 1.7 MHz to 221.2 MHz, DECT-2020 NR as a technology foundation is targeted for local wireless applications that can be deployed anywhere in no time, thanks to decentralized and device-based decisions.

DECT-2020 NR includes specifications for the PHY, MAC DLC, and convergence layers, and it addresses industrial applications requiring massive machine-type communications (mMTC) and/or ultra-reliable low latency communications (URLLC). 

The technology supports star and mesh topology communications and enables autonomous and automatic operation with minimal maintenance effort. Moreover, any node in the network can function as an access point with a backhaul connection to the internet, which allows for self-healing capabilities and increased reliability. A vital aspect of the DECT technology has its dedicated global spectrum at around 1900 MHz, which ensures low interference levels. Moreover, its dynamic selection feature means that it does not require frequency planning.

So what? We’ve seen standards before

In most cases, standards are created from theories, after which they may be applied to actual use. Standards are a good thing—we are all for them—but it takes time and money to develop a viable product out of a new standard. That’s why we, Wirepas, have opened up a lot of our technology for the greater good, making us one of the key contributors to the development of this new standard. This has allowed us to get our standard-based product to the market faster. At the same time, it means good parts have already been used and tested.

We’ve developed our new Wirepas 5G Mesh based on this new standard. In fact, the product and the standard are basically the same. As the standard enables multiple profiles and numerologies, we’ve simply chosen one configuration we think the IoT should look like. In fact, the Wirepas technology itself is more comprehensive than the standard, with some purpose-built features on top of the standard, such as OTAP, network monitoring, and location tracking—just some of the things we see as being critical for the IoT.

What difference does it make?

No technology impacts anything if we don’t adopt it. Fortunately for the IoT world, the Wirepas 5G Mesh technology has received huge interest, especially in smart metering and smart city applications. Not to forget building management systems, either. What’s common with these applications is the volume needed. Think big. This is bigger than what you think is big—we’re talking about millions of devices in one network! With this technology, you get to connect millions and millions of devices, even in very dense deployments, and the network is the devices. Wireless means these trackers can be battery-operated with years of battery life. Think about containers or pallets. Location monitoring without any other infrastructure than the battery-powered devices? Done!

Even better, the technology is affordable enough to connect even the tiniest aspects of your business. Think about condition monitoring, for example. It’s easier and less expensive to conduct predictive maintenance than shut down operations in case of unexpected malfunctions or repairs. That’s what we call being genuinely frugal. The application can be almost anything imaginable.

Too good to be true, you think? If something is affordable, there’s always a catch. Not for us. We are open about our business model because we want win-win deals. In the case of our Wirepas 5G Mesh, you only pay a license fee and a one-time royalty per device. Everything after that is free, and the network user owns their own data, which affects security. You own what’s yours when there’s no need to put any data on “public” clouds.

Nothing can grow big alone

That’s why we love our ecosystem of partners. We provide the connectivity software, but our partners are the actual users. Our typical partners are the semiconductor sector, OEM, gateway, and cloud providers. Then, of course, we’ve got solution providers who will bake all this in.

The beauty of this technology is that you can make a complete solution all on your own, or you can get it straight from our partners. If you think neither of these options are the way to go, you can always make some parts of the solution yourself and get others from our ecosystem. This results in a lower level of R&D investments and the fastest time to market, and it’s precisely what one of our loudest partners does: Just ask Schaeffler about their OPTIME product.

Our prediction for the future of the IoT

The 5G-driven IoT will ultimately be defined by the new non-cellular 5G rather than improvements on the cellular 5G side. Non-cellular 5G is a powerful wireless solution that will enable totally new uses case to allow more devices to be connected than we could have ever imagined. The 5G label means it’s part of the global 5G family to meet the agreed set of requirements for the massive density of IoT devices. In addition, the non-cellular 5G IoT provides new opportunities to manage your data affordably. The Wirepas 5G Mesh will be available for all lead customers in 2022, with general availability starting at the beginning of 2023. Meanwhile, the technology can already be tested on 2.4 GHz and sub-GHz frequencies.

Welcome to the real IoT revolution!