IoT promise driving Asia's race to 5G

The race is on. Internet of Things (IoT) is growing faster than ever, with one recent report predicting 27 billion connected devices and $3 trillion in IoT revenues by 2025. And throughout Asia, countries are planning ahead for it with 5G mobile connectivity identified as the network backbone that will power IoT growth and prosperity.

South Korea has long been a trailblazer in mobile technology, and boasted 100 percent nationwide 4G coverage back in 2011, while its citizens enjoy the fastest internet speeds in the world. The country’s biggest telecom provider, SK Telecom, launched its ‘5G Playground’ around a year ago, a facility dedicated to researching 5G and into which it sank $1.5 billion in investment. Since then it has demonstrated speeds of up to 19.1 gigabits per second, nearly 1,000 times faster than its current 4G offering.

South Korea has a 5G target launch date. The country will host the 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, and provider KT Telecom has announced it will launch its 5G service at the games.

A similar race is on in Japan, with provider Docomo targeting the summer Olympics of 2020 for its own 5G launch, and IoT features heavily in the event’s plans; Japan wants to have connected cars on the road for the games and 8K Super Hi-Vision broadcast in place for video viewers.

Other countries are realizing the importance of 5G to IoT and are getting in on the act. China Mobile, the world’s biggest mobile operator, recently started 5G trials across more than 100 cities throughout the country.

And in Singapore, operator SingTel has successfully demonstrated a peak throughput of 27.5Gbps and latency as low as 2ms. It has also shown the world’s first end-to-end low-latency live video streaming over 5G.

IoT providing the use cases

What’s driving operators in Asia to race to launch 5G is the promise of IoT.  Recent research shows that 79 percent of mobile operators believe that IoT will be their top use case for 5G.

The reasoning behind this is that the far greater bandwidth and lower latency available through 5G will mean the ability to power more demanding, higher-performing apps like real-time video broadcasting to tablets or video-calling in connected cars.  

Asia is a pretty obvious target for IoT development. With about two-thirds of the world’s population, Asia is replete with densely-populated cities and has a fast-growing ‘consumer class’. Growing urbanization and increasing disposable income among citizens prompted this need for increased investment in infrastructure, including in IoT-related technologies.

Smartphone proliferation continues apace, with Forrester estimating that by 2019 the only Asian nation with less than 70 percent smartphone penetration will be Pakistan, again underlining the region’s demand for innovation and connected lives. Asia Pacific was responsible for 58 percent of global IoT revenues in 2014 and though that is estimated to be slightly less by 2020, the figure will still account for more than half of those global revenues.

So with so many more devices becoming connected, it follows that a new, bigger, better and faster mobile networks will be needed to handle all those high throughputs and increased data volumes at very low latency. Asia’s countries have recognized this and have laid out their commitment to having the 5G networks in place that can handle and power this next great leap forward.

Read our blog from Mobile World Congress 2016 about global 5G launch plans

Steve Harris

I’ve been writing about technology for around 15 years and today focus mainly on all things telecoms - next generation networks, mobile, cloud computing and plenty more. For Futurity Media I am based in the Asia-Pacific region and keep a close eye on all things tech happening in that exciting part of the world.