5G Network Expansion: IoT Boost for Industry of the Future

07.12.2021 by Ümit Günes

A farmer with a tablet controls a drone across a field

From smart farming to telemedicine, many future IoT applications will depend on a nationwide 5G network.

As a rule, potatoes are a welcome sight for farmers – unless, that is, they are growing in the middle of their sugar beet. Volunteers is a term used to describe, inter alia, plants from a previous year’s crop that survive the winter and grow unwanted among the newly sown successor crop. Traditional ways to deal with these intruders – pulling them out by hand or spraying them individually with chemicals – are labor- and time-intensive and not very sustainable. That is why, in Valthermond, a small town in the Netherlands, Wageningen University researchers have developed a new way to identify invasive potato plants in sugar beet fields and eliminate them automatically – with the aid of 5G.

Camera and 5G Combat Uninvited Guests

This is how it works. A robot vehicle equipped with a camera drives up and down the sugar beet field and transmits livestream to a Cloud-based computer in The Hague. The 5G network ensures fast transmission of the bandwidth-intensive video data. On the server a machine learning algorithm that has been trained to recognize potato and sugar beet plants takes over. If the AI identifies a potato plant it sends a signal to the robot telling it to spay herbicide on the plant. Thanks to 5G’s extremely low latency recognition and spraying are only milliseconds apart. Analysis takes up 90 percent of this time and data transmission a mere ten percent.

The result of field trials was that the robot successfully identified and sprayed 95 percent of the unwelcome potato plants, roughly the same success rate as that of a farm worker. The difference is that this unpopular task takes the farm worker 20 hours per hectare and the robot a mere three hours.

Digital Agriculture of the Future

This practical example demonstrates the benefits that 5G mobile communications can deliver for agriculture when combined with the Internet of Things (IoT). Connected drones, sensors or vehicles collect data that an IoT module with a built-in SIM card or eSIM profile forwards for further processing. It takes mobile communications to make mobile uses of this kind possible. Other Smart Farming applications also benefit from digitization, the Cloud, the cellular network, IoT and 5G. Drones that spread seed, fertilizer and pesticides precisely can, for example, be controlled in real time and supplied with updates over the air via 5G, which also has the bandwidth and latency required for driverless combine harvesters, tractors and other agricultural vehicles and machinery. According to a Bitkom study four out of five farmers in Germany already use digital aids. One in three relies on smart, site-specific spreading of pesticides or fertilizers and ten percent of farms use drones.

Uses of 5G in Different Industries

  • Video transmission in HD and 4K quality, also with the aid of drones
  • Digital Farming: Controlling drones and driverless combine harvesters and tractors
  • Construction: Controlling driverless machinery on construction sites
  • Production, Transportation and Logistics: AR / VR glasses for technicians, mechanics and logisticians with real-time information transmission
  • Facility Management: Video monitoring in office buildings, stadiums, concert halls and at public transport stations
  • Telemedicine / Remote Diagnostics: Real-time transmission of medical checks and surgical procedures
  • Smart Grid Constructs for Power Utilities: Low latencies for managing Smart Metering modules and power lines
  • Campus Networks for industry and research, airports and hospitals

5G delivers not only the speed and network capacity that many current and future use cases in different industries require (see info box). Mobile networks are a must for the quality of service and the security n which industry insists, and they presuppose that the network must be available everywhere.

Democratic Countrywide Rollout

That is why Deutsche Telekom is upgrading its network countrywide: not just in conurbations but also in rural areas. We rely mainly on non-standalone (NSA) technology and make use of existing 4G cell towers. What does that mean for industry? Expanding the existing infrastructure is faster than erecting new towers, so by the end of 2021 our 5G network will be able to supply 90 percent of the population, around 75 million people. Many tariffs will then be 5G-compatible without an extra premium.

“By going non-standalone we aim to reach as many people and enterprises as possible countrywide before we focus on standalone expansion, so we are expanding our 5G network democratically”, says Thomas Lips, CTO at Deutsche Telekom IoT.

5G-compatible hardware is a further prerequisite. All currently available 5G devices are NSA-compatible. Following a later software update most of them will also be suitable for use with standalone technology (SA) and will then benefit immediately from further network expansion. By the year’s end Telekom will be able to offer 14 tested and certified IoT modules that will enable a wide range of industries to use 5G NSA. In 36 countries (as of November 2021, see network coverage map) 5G IoT roaming is also available and we have signed agreements with international network providers. The advantage in logistics, for example, is that when a truck crosses a border its IoT tracking module will continue to be operational. IoT device manufacturers will also be able to sell their products in other markets without having to incorporate country-specific wireless modules.


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Ümit Günes
Ümit Günes

Marketing Manager IoT

Ümit has been working at T-Systems since 2015 and knows a great deal about many facets of the Internet of Things. He is particularly interested in topics related to the digitalization of the business world. For the blog, he reports on new developments and trends in the IoT world that offer real added value for customers.