5G and smart cities: smarter solutions for a hyperconnected future

The new Internet of Things (IoT) applications are enabling Smart City initiatives worldwide. It provides the ability to remotely monitor, manage and control devices, and to create new insights and actionable information from massive streams of real-time data.

What is a smart city?

The European Commission defines a smart city as “a place where traditional networks and services are made more efficient with the use of digital and telecommunication technologies for the benefit of its inhabitants and business”. Diffusion and availability of new technologies are required to transform a city into a smart city, contributing to reach high level of urban sustainable development and improved quality of life for its citizens.

A smart cities use Internet of Things (IoT) to collect real time data to better understand how demand patterns are changing, and respond with faster and lower-cost solutions. Broadly speaking, digital city ecosystems are designed to run on ICT frameworks that connect several dedicated networks of mobile devices, sensors, connected cars, home appliances, communication gateways and data centers.

By 2025 the IoT trends suggest the number of connected devices worldwide will rise to 75 billion. The increasing number of objects that interconnect generates an unprecedented volume of data that the city can analyze locally in order to make more informed decisions about what changes or new projects will most benefit residents. The term “Massive IoT” is an apt description of the enormous number of IoT sensors and devices that will be communicating with each other.


To achieve a vision in which millions of devices are connected, the IoT standard must ensure both scalability and versatility, offering enough capacity and network efficiency to connect millions of devices while also providing advanced features—such as longer battery life and a wider coverage area—to facilitate the expansion of new use cases. The existing 4G network was designed primarily to enhance mobile data services, however it still suffers from numerous limitations. These limitations includes poor support for simultaneous connections, high power consumption and too high a price per bit. 5G is expected to unlock the potential of the IoT and be a driving force for the smart city by addressing and overcoming these issues.

Device density and the impact of 5G technologies on smart cities

5G technology has a number of features which will positively impact digital experiences and smart cities. In addition to a higher speed to upload and download data, it ensures very short latency times and the ability to connect multiple devices at the same time.

Less latency means compressing the time between sending and receiving the signal. 5G brings the range to at least under 10 milliseconds (that is, half the most advanced 4G could achieve) and in best cases around 1 millisecond delays, meaning data will be transferred about in real time.

Moreover, with new networks, speed and latency don't get worse even with tens of thousands of connected devices. 5G therefore offers more device density.

The combination of high density and low latency will deeply transform our cities. Today, in crowded vacation spots or at stadiums, connection can sometimes get worse. With 5G it will no longer be like this: it will be possible to have a huge number (up to one million) of connections simultaneously for each square kilometer.

This means, in addition to personal devices such as smartphones, tablets, smart speakers and PCs, also many other devices, objects and sensors will be capable of capturing information and dialogue with each other. The focus will be on extreme simplicity, low-power consumption to ensure longer operation time and pervasive coverage for reaching challenging locations, as well as increased connection density so that networks can handle the massive number of devices deployed for IoT applications.

Therefore, 5G essentially removes one of the brakes on the development of the Internet of Things, which will thus be able to express its potential not only in the home environment but also in industrial plants, in public buildings or on the streets.

The evolution of the Massive IoT

3GPP adopted the term “Machine‐Type Communication” (MTC) to indicate the broad area of wireless communication with sensors, actuators, physical objects and other devices not directly operated by humans. Furthermore, MTC has been differentiated according to two major challenges: “massive Machine‐Type Communication” (mMTC) and “ultra‐reliable Machine‐Type Communication” (uMTC). As the name suggests, mMTC is about providing scalable connectivity for an increasing number of devices, focusing on wide area coverage and deep indoor penetration. A typical example is the collection of the measurements from a massive number of low‐power sensors, such as smart metering. On the other hand, uMTC is about providing adequate wireless links for network services with rather stringent requirements on availability, latency and reliability. Two important examples are Vehicle‐to‐everything (V2X) communications and industrial control applications.


Standards body 3GPP has made a number of enhancements to 5G network architecture and NR (New Radio) specifications to improve support for IoT devices used by consumers and enterprises also adding new features to enable wider use cases. The two key challenges to address are: cost-efficiently connecting a large number of devices in a wide area, and efficiently managing these devices over their complete life cycle.

The Massive IoT isn’t part of the initial wave of 5G networks, and will instead be included in Release 16. Assuming this comes out in June 2020, massive IoT applications could see introduction by late 2020 or 2021, depending on the development and release of supporting modules.

Until the 5G modules for Massive IoT enter the market, 4G based Narrowband IoT (NB-IoT) and LTE for machine type communication (LTE-M) standard will be the most advanced standards for massive IoT applications.

As the IoT use cases involve sensors and devices with long lifecycle, it is important to ensure a smooth transition to 5G and stability in technological choices.

Digital solutions: 5G and smart cities for more liveable future

Ultimately 5G, moves the construction of smart cities from the theoretical to the practical and paves the way for the development and deployment of new applications ranging from monitoring air quality, energy use and traffic patterns to street lighting, smart parking, crowd management, and emergency response. The smart city uses digital solutions, technology and data to improve significantly several key quality of life indicators. This leads to improved traffic and commute time, accelerated emergency response time, reduced healthcare costs, decreased water consumption, unrecycled waste and harmful emissions, and ultimately in a huge saving potential.

This presents new business opportunities for the companies providing services and applications to manage complex IoT ecosystems and convert data into smart insights. Several initiatives at European, national and regional level contribute to addressing city related challenges. The European Union initiated the Horizon 2020 program and the Digital Single Market strategy.

Reply's experience in 5G technology 

Reply has extensive experience in the IoT domain, and is involved in a number of research activities as well as in technical and commercial propositions for the smart city context. For example, a data control room allowing data exposure, correlation, filtering and visualization, giving a multi-operator multi-view dashboard to access and manage them. As a very innovative system integrator we can facilitate the adoption of 5G technology having experienced it first with our Telco partners.

Reply also participates in several research projects, contributing to the different smart city use cases. These range from an integrated smart parking solution, leveraging different sensor types and vehicle to infrastructure communication, to applications for remote monitoring and care of elderly people exploiting several personal and smart home devices, to factory digital twins for process optimization.

All these examples involve the use of a number of smart sensors, actuators and other kinds of objects. The proof of concept demonstrators have been deployed over 4G or Wi-Fi to show the feasibility of the solution on a small scale. The adoption of 5G will provide the performance boost required to integrate a massive number of devices in a cost-effective way and move from research to commercial services.

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