Long distance radio vs. Short distance radio or 5G vs. Meshnet

5G - the fifth generation of mobile radio technology is currently on everyone's lips. But is the new standard really the ultimate for the Internet of Things? We show the technology comparison.

Wireless networks can mainly be described by three technologically and economically important properties: Range, data transfer rate and energy consumption.

Improving one property leads to a negative impact on one or both of them. An increased data transfer rate is usually associated with a reduction in range or increased power consumption.

This interplay can be demonstrated by appropriate current and relevant examples:

  • LTE: Average energy costs, long range, low data transfer rate
  • Wi-Fi: High energy costs, medium range, high data transfer rate
  • Bluetooth: Low energy costs, short range, low data transfer rate

5G - The replacement for LTE

5G is the technological successor to the current and widely used LTE technology. At first glance, 5G is all about increased speed. It offers a data rate about 10-20 times higher than LTE. In addition, it offers improved features such as reduced latency times, lower energy consumption and the possibility of operating far more devices per base station at the same time. The new wireless technology is very flexible and can be individually adapted to existing needs. Possible applications include augmented reality, working with drones and autonomous driving.

5G - What is needed?

For 5G completely new hardware is needed. This includes adapted end devices, radio masts with different antennas and fast backbones such as fiber optic cables. Although this is a wireless technology in principle, transmitting stations and masts must be sufficiently equipped with bandwidth through wired connections so that all communication participants can be served quickly enough. If this is not the case, data will come from and to the transmitter mast at increased speed, but will then be considerably slowed down by an old copper line. The overall speed advantage over LTE would thus have disappeared.

In addition to the new transmitter masts, these must also be set up at a much smaller distance from each other than is the case with LTE so far. The fact that 5G transmits at a slightly higher frequency range also reduces the range. Some estimates assume that a transmission mast would have to be built every kilometre in Germany (urban space) in order to make 5G available nationwide - an impossible goal.

The biggest problem with the use of 5G is therefore the fact that it has not yet been expanded. In fact, the technology cannot be used at the moment because neither providers nor transmission masts are available. Thus 5G remains unfortunately still a future vision.

Mesh Networks

For wireless communication there is the possibility to use mesh networks in addition to 5G. Meshnet can be implemented with different wireless connection standards. These include the widely used Bluetooth, but also lesser known standards such as ZigBee or Wirepas Mesh. There are no fees for the transmission.

Since a mesh network generally uses freely usable radio frequencies, it inherently has basic characteristics such as a relatively short range and a lower data transmission rate. On the other hand, it stands out due to its low energy consumption.

A mesh network is formed by a network of network nodes that are linked to each other. So if node A wants to send something to node B and they are not directly connected, communication takes place via intermediate nodes until it reaches its destination. The following figure shows the possible structure of a mesh network:

There is the possibility that all nodes are connected to each other, this corresponds to a full meshing. As soon as a node is only connected with "many" others, this is considered as partial meshing. Full meshing ensures optimal availability, since data transmissions are not interrupted by the failure of network nodes, while partial meshing leaves gaps in the network, but the setup effort and thus the costs are much lower.

In any case, using a mesh network means that a limited area, such as a factory, can be networked and monitored across the board. These are possible areas of application: Asset tracking, retrofit including control tasks, condition monitoring, smart building with e.g. lighting control and predictive maintenance. Devices that are distributed over a very large spatial distance can only be inadequately connected via a mesh network.

Flexibly customizable routing protocols

Regardless of the type of meshing used, the network can act and respond in various ways through customized routing protocols. The following examples are conceivable:

  • If one node fails, the network can establish an indirect connection via other nodes and thus maintain the reliability of the network.
  • It is possible to implement load balancing where each node in the network is used equally. This allows the bandwidth to be optimally utilized. In addition, the energy consumption is evenly distributed over the network.
  • The communication cycles of the nodes can be reduced in order to reduce energy consumption and at the same time extend the service life of the batteries, e.g. when using sensors as nodes with Wirepas Mesh protocol.

However, this high degree of adaptability also brings with it some disadvantages: depending on the degree of adaptation, a high level of effort is required and the complexity of the routing protocols increases enormously. It can also happen that all network nodes have to function simultaneously as routers. This increases the required computing power and at the same time the energy requirement.

Which technology is the right one?

Both the use of 5G and a mesh network have advantages and disadvantages. A Mesh-Network is suitable where no large distances have to be covered or where 5G cannot be used, for example due to a lack of expansion or existing interference signals. A mesh network is particularly suitable for monitoring systems, M2M communication, asset tracking and similar locally limited communication. Here SYS TEC electronic offers various solutions in cooperation with the network protocol provider Wirepas.

5G can be used to transport data over long distances from widely distributed field devices. However, this also presupposes that a corresponding network coverage is available - and currently it is not. Until the expansion and implementation of 5G for industrial applications is complete, older technologies will have to take this place. This includes LTE, which has already been mentioned and is somewhat slower. The possible field of application for LTE essentially corresponds to that of 5G.

However, the two technologies - 5G and mesh-networks - are not exclusive to each other. It is possible to use them side by side or simultaneously. Due to their different technical characteristics and applications, they complement each other well.

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