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Machine-type communication in 5G

There are many opportunities to provide excellent wireless connectivity for machine-type communication.

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One of the most important areas and challenges for the connectivity solutions, in the Networked Society, is to provide excellent wireless connectivity for machine-type communication.

Why is this important – and why is it a difficult challenge?

We see an accelerating use of connected devices around us and what we see now is still just the beginning. The vast majority of humans are already connected with smartphones or with feature phones. But we also use connected tablets, cameras that automatically upload pictures to the cloud, or use a remote control to supervise the summer house. We see more uses of simple wireless sensors that can keep track of temperature and rainfall, provide tracking of cargo containers, or measure water or electricity consumption. Most of the time, transferring real-time information, down to a fraction of a second, is not required. Now, battery consumption is more crucial, since many devices will be powered by batteries or solar cells that can seldom-or never-be recharged.

Other kinds of machine-type communication will have very different requirements. We have been researching Intelligent Transport Systems that, for example, will provide cars and buses with information about road work or accidents ahead. The information may come from fixed base stations alongside each of the roads or from other, fellow vehicles, travelling in the same, or opposite, direction. Vehicles normally come with lots of electrical power, so power efficiency is perhaps not the most important characteristic – the challenge here is that the latency needs to be very short in order to be efficient for alerting the approaching hazards.

Yet another use for communicating devices is for industrial applications. This can be used for remote control of heavy machinery in remote or hazardous places; or used for monitoring and control of smart grids. Here we need to provide extremely fast and reliable connectivity, and 5G can bring the needed functionality also for these applications.

From what I wrote above, it is obvious that the requirements on connectivity are very diverse, depending on the service and situation the machines need to communicate. Also, there are other very different requirements, on other aspects that will be different depending on the use case for the connected devices-for example, the cost of the device and power availability. We believe different solutions will be required since it will be difficult, and probably not efficient, to support all diverse requirements with one single solution.

On the 23rd of January I had the opportunity to visit Winlab at Rutgers University in New Jersey. It was great to discuss the 5G research topics with my friends at the Lab. Some topics they studied at Winlab include future internet architectures in the Mobility First project as well as various radio network topics based on their Orbit radio test environment. I also had the opportunity to present the Ericsson view of 5G systems for the faculty and students.

I think there are many opportunities to contribute with research efforts for 5G, and the Winlab research activities are clearly heading in the right direction.

Magnus Frodigh
Director, Wireless Access Networks at Ericsson Research

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