It is impossible to listen to any fifth generation mobile network proponent speak without learning that “everyone” expects 5G will lead to big new markets for Internet of Things apps.

Nor is it possible to avoid the fact that most of the new spectrum proposed for 5G, including millimeter wave bands, will have very high capacity, but very limited range.

That virtually assures the use of small cells better adapted to high-density urban areas for new 5G millimeter spectrum. On the other hand, IoT apps often provide value even at low bandwidths.

But good signal coverage is necessary to match the expected IoT business case: widely-deployed sensors that will demand low cost connections and low power consumption.

That might suggest that the most-valuable spectrum for 5G will be the lower-frequency bands (600 MHz, 700 MHz, 800 MHz) already used for 2G, 3G and 4G networks.

Since we safely can assume that some service providers will move faster than others to deploy 5G mobile networks, as a matter of business strategy, we might also assume those suppliers will often look at repurposed lower-band frequencies. 

If connected cars, health applications, industrial automation, utility apps and logistics (for example) are among the lead IoT apps and services, it is reasonable to predict that the lower frequencies–with better signal propagation and lower bandwidths–will underpin the business models. In other words, such IoT apps often will require coverage, not bandwidth.

The millimeter wave frequencies will be better suited to capacity, rather than coverage. That might suggest new millimeter wave 5G allocations will be used in urban, high density settings, to support high-bandwidth applications such as video.

One intriguing possibility: use of high-capacity 5G bandwidth indoors, to displace traditional fixed network access. Practitioners will have to solve the problem of indoor signal reception from outdoor small cells, or place small cells inside buildings.