Imagining 5G: The Future Network of ”Things”. The Evolving Landscape of IoT and Wearables

April 12, 2017 - 1 Comment

The 2017 Cisco Mobile Visual Networking Index (VNI) forecasts, for the first time, 5G connections and traffic. We estimate, there will be about 25 million global 5G-capable devices and connections by 2021 (representing 0.2 percent of total mobile devices and connections). Those 5G devices and connections will generate nearly an exabyte of monthly traffic (or 1.5 percent of total annual mobile traffic in 2021). From this modest initial base, 5G has the potential to build a prodigious, but different future compared to prior cellular technologies.

While 4G was the network that made smartphones prolific as a personal infotainment device, 5G is going to be network of the IoT. Theoretically, 5G is much more than just a “next generation” innovation. In terms of performance, 5G will be capable of offering a new high bandwidth benchmark of 1 Gbps or higher and sub 1 millisecond (ms) latency. Operationally, 5G’s support for dynamic resource allocation and application prioritization will accommodate a variety of M2M devices, including those that require very low bandwidth. 5G is capable of supporting the growing volume of M2M nodes and sensors with mobile connectivity.

Cellular connected M2M applications have widely varied requirements in terms of bandwidth, latency, security and continuous network availability for communication. On the one hand, there are applications such as street lighting that have very low network requirements. On the other end of the spectrum, there are applications such as connected car (including autonomous cars) and telemedicine that require very high bandwidth, low to ultra-low latency, very high security and continuous communication with networks.

The great strides in the cellular network connectivity are helping the evolution in M2M applications. They are becoming more video capable and gaining increasing functionality. 5G networks can support very advanced applications such as remote surgery, immersive experiences through virtual and augmented reality, autonomous cars and so on. Each of these applications can be game changers. Recently there have been several announcements about testing of autonomous cars – though there is a great difference in opinion on when these cars will become commercially viable. Just autonomous cars alone can have a big impact on many industries such as air travel, hospitality, and other ancillary functionalities and systems such as traffic management, automobile servicing and maintenance etc.

Out of 3.3 billion global mobile M2M connections by 2021, Cisco Mobile VNI estimates that over 1 billion (31 percent) will be connected over low power wide area networks (LPWA). 5G can potentially accommodate many of these LPWA connections as the 5G networks have high power efficiency so that devices are expected to last 10 times as long, resulting into much longer battery life– solving one of the key issues of cellular connectivity for M2M that do not have ready power access.

Among wearables, a category that we include in our M2M forecast, we have also seen a changing trend with different devices being more popular each year – initially smart glasses were at the forefront then came smart watches which were followed by health monitors and now virtual reality (VR) headsets. This latest wearable popularity is also driven by the higher network performance in terms of speeds and low latencies. VR headsets are going to grow from 18 million in 2016 to nearly 100 million by 2021, a fivefold growth. More than half of these will be connected to smartphones by 2021. The remaining VR headsets will be connected to PCs, consoles and a few will be standalone. 5G with tactile Internet capabilities is expected to further augment the adoption of virtual reality and augmented reality applications over cellular networks.

5G is going to be an important mobile network evolution driven by IoT growth. In the midst of what some might consider 5G hype, there are legitimate questions that are yet to be answered. There are standards and regulatory hurdles that will need to be addressed for many IoT applications. While there are different views on when 5G networks will become commercially available (before or after 2020), the anticipation (and demand) for truly ubiquitous and reliable mobile connectivity is also palpable. We’re interested in your perspectives — please share your comments below.

To read more on our projections for 5G, IoT and other mobile trends, please visit our public web site.


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  1. Agreed Shruti, thanks for sharing. 5G is going to be the network of the IoT and wereables. The new 5G capacities of 1 Gbps and the latency in the order of sub 1 millisecond will allow to support a greater communication M2M and a wide base of intelligent sensors. The spectrum of mobile applications is varied: Fleet management & vehicle tracking, public transport, smart home, smart wearables and others and the general public are also varied public, doctors & patients, stock brokers and others who need information and statistics in real time. With these new bandwidth capabilities the possibility of autonomous cars ceases to be science fiction to become reality. In order to support these new realities, it is necessary to have a robust, scalable and reliable network infrastructure, monitoring and provisioning systems based on automation, qualified IT personnel and sound workflow process.