Do you need 5G for the “Internet of Things?”

The Internet of Things. It’s funny how you heard that term in a while, right? It was pretty popular in 2015 when I wrote this article. But, it seems like talk about smart home technology has taken a back seat to other stuff. Certainly you don’t hear that term as much anymore.

What is (was) the internet of things?

It was very popular about five years ago to talk about a future where everything from your socks to your furnace was internet connected. With low-powered, durable networking modules, this seemed more likely than ever. We called it the “internet of things,” a way to give everything in your life an electronic presence.

There were two problems. First of all, cheap internet connectivity didn’t happen. You’d need to have a durable network module that cost a few pennies in order to build it into everything like that. Second, people just didn’t buy into the idea that the internet needed to know where their socks were.

Where we are today

Yes, we love smart outlets. We love trackers that tell us where we left something important like our keys. But in the last five years we’ve also learned that balancing our privacy is just as important as access. We learned that Alexa remembers everything that you say to her, and that Ring doorbell videos are sometimes sent to the police without our permission. We’ve even learned that sometimes real humans listen to the things we tell our smart assistants. All in all it’s made us just a little less enthusiastic about putting the location of our tables and chairs on the internet.

But I do think we’ll get there. In the meantime, smart home manufacturers have looked to figure out how. One big question is how these things are all going to connect to the internet. And that brings us to the topic of this article.

Should we wait for 5G to get the internet of things?

5G is the next cellular standard. It promises two things: super fast speeds and super low latency. Everyone understands high speeds, but as I’ve said before, low latency is actually much more important. High latency, waiting for something, is going to make the connection seem a lot slower than it is. And if you’re talking about connecting things like cars and robots, low latency becomes a safety issue. Unless you’re going to build 100% of the intelligence you need into a small, cheap package, you’re going to need a low-latency connection to the internet.

But does it have to be 5G? I think in the case of self-driving cars or stuff like that, yeah it probably does. But if you’re talking about something in your house, you’re probably going to go another way. Smart home devices will use Bluetooth low energy (Bluetooth LE) to connect to a router. In a case like that, having Wi-Fi 6 is much more important than 5G. Wi-Fi 6 is the new Wi-Fi standard and it will make it possible to connect more devices, more quickly, than ever before. Although, with today’s Wi-Fi 5 (802.11ac) there shouldn’t be a problem for a long while.

So no, we shouldn’t wait. The internet of things, if you’re interested in it, is here today. No need to wait for 5G.

About the Author

Stuart Sweet
Stuart Sweet is the editor-in-chief of The Solid Signal Blog and a "master plumber" at Signal Group, LLC. He is the author of over 9,000 articles and longform tutorials including many posted here. Reach him by clicking on "Contact the Editor" at the bottom of this page.