The Internet of Things (IoT) is growing rapidly. Since 2015, the number of IoT devices in our homes, offices and cities has increased by over 132%. By the end of 2021, we will have connected over 35.82 billion devices to the IoT network.
But while the growth of the IoT is exciting for Australian businesses, there is a problem: powering battery-operated IoT devices. This article will explore a new technology that can power IoT devices with the 5G network and how this 5G and IoT collaboration will reshape Australian businesses.
What is the IoT?
The IoT is a network of devices that exchanges information over the internet. In 2019, the average Australian home had 18.9 internet-connected devices, including smartphones, computers, tablets, smart power outlets, smart gardening tools, smart appliances and smart security.
Some of these IoT tools are ‘low power’ devices. Low power devices include sensors, voice assistants and item trackers. It is these IoT devices that need the 5G network.
Why IoT Needs 5G
Low power IoT devices tend to blend into the background of everyday life. This makes changing their batteries time-consuming, impractical and bad for the environment.
There is no better example of this than smart manufacturing. Many smart factories use sensors to improve workplace safety by monitoring the productivity and health of machinery. However, it takes hours to change each sensor’s batteries - making smart manufacturing impossible for many companies.
This problem would disappear if companies could charge low-power IoT devices without batteries, which is why Australia’s network needs 5G and IoT together.
How a New Technology Can Wirelessly Power IoT Devices
Researchers from America’s Georgia Tech University recently built a device that takes power from the 5G network and uses it to charge low-power IoT devices. They call the device a ‘rectenna’.
To understand how the rectenna works for 5G and IoT, you need to know how the 5G network operates.
What is a 5G Network?
The 5G network is the fifth generation of the mobile network. Naturally, it follows the 3G and 4G networks. The 5G network is currently being built nationwide by Australia’s largest telecommunications companies: Vodafone, Optus and Telstra. According to Telstra, their 5G network will cover 75% of Australia’s population by the end of June 2021.
5G is a form of electromagnetic energy that travels from 5G towers to 5G connected devices. When you connect your phone to the 5G network, your device uses electromagnetic energy to connect to the internet.
However, data isn’t the only thing the 5G network transmits. The network also transmits energy that can be harnessed and used for power.
We can use the 5G network to charge devices because the 5G network uses a higher frequency than the 3G and 4G networks. Generally, 3G and 4G networks operate between 1 - 6 gigahertz, while 5G operates between 24 - 90 gigahertz. This higher wave frequency makes 5G more powerful at short ranges, meaning it can be used as a power source when harnessed with a device like a rectenna.
A Rectenna: The Basics
A rectenna is a device that directs energy from the 5G network. According to the researchers who designed it, a rectenna has six eyes that can direct power in six different directions at once.
To harness power from the 5G network, a rectenna needs a Rotman lens. A Rotman lens collects energy from its field of view and directs it in a “pencil beam” shape between 20 - 120 degrees. Militaries worldwide currently use Rotman lenses in radar surveillance systems. When you combine the rectenna and the Rotman lens, you could direct intense beams of power in six directions at once in spider-like formation.
The rectenna designed by researchers at Georgia Tech is the size of a business card. According to researchers, it can currently direct six microwatts of electricity from 180 metres away. That makes the rectenna 21 times more powerful than any competing devices in development.
If researchers can increase the power of the rectenna, it would be vital in the future of 5G and the IoT.
The Future of 5G and IoT
While the rectenna is not currently usable outside of a laboratory environment, Australian businesses would really benefit from the technology. In particular, it would change the nature of smart manufacturing, wearables and smart office technology.
As we covered in the ‘Why IoT Needs 5G’ section, low-power IoT devices like sensors and pallet trackers can make manufacturing plants safer and more efficient.
If a manufacturing business could use a rectenna to power their sensors with 5G, they could place sensors inside employee’s clothes and on every square metre of the factory floor. This would help the business reduce workplace accidents and identify faulty machines before they malfunction - making the factory safer and smarter.
According to Georgia Tech researchers, people could place a rectenna inside their clothing to charge their wearable devices. This would include biomonitoring wearables like glucose monitors, heart rate monitors and EKG monitors.
As changing the batteries in wearable devices is expensive and difficult, using 5G to charge healthcare wearables would reduce their cost and increase their reliability. Potentially, this could make these life-saving devices more accessible for Australians who need them.
Smart Office Technology
Smart office technology will also benefit from 5G and IoT. While smart offices can enhance the working environment, they need multiple sensors in every room to work. As these sensors are battery-operated, smart offices are simply not worth the hassle for many Australian businesses.
5G and IoT will change that. As IoT smart office devices wouldn’t require batteries, maintaining a smart office would be faster, easier and more environmentally friendly than ever before.
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