One of the great things about emerging technologies is that they often give a boost to existing, or previous generations of technologies unless they supersede them.
Private networks are one of the verticals that is beginning to get legs. It seems that the technologies that are enabling 5G are also infusing into 4G. I recently discussed private LTE and where it is going. This missive continues that discussion on to 5G and the advantages of private 5G over private 4G. It focuses on one of the use cases that is deploying 5G.
5G technologies, such as bandwidth manipulation, improved latency, new frequencies, etc., are creating opportunities in the private network space.
One early and promising vertical is manufacturing. While there are any number of sub-verticals in manufacturing, the global manufacturing platform is going to benefit significantly from the expanded metrics of 5G. However, it has its own infrastructure, commonly referred to as the Industrial Internet of things (IIoT).
Emerging technologies and developments in technology have given the IIoT a boost, and it promises to be one of the rising stars of 5G. As the IIoT gains traction it will be integrating the next iteration of Industry “X”.0 – 4.0. This integration promises to bump up the manufacturing sector by another order of magnitude.
IIoT and Industry 4.0
However, before I go into how private 5G will play in this ecosystem, perhaps a quick paragraph on the IIoT and industry 4.0 is warranted.
First of all, they are not joined at the hip as some suggest. The IIoT is the grittier end of the IoT (or the Internet of Everything/Everyone – IoX as I like to call it). It is, predominantly, the M2M-based manufacturing sector of the IoX.
By implementing industry 4.0 metrics (analytics, automation, lean approaches, virtualization, AI, machine learning, etc.) the IIoT is expected to add 10 to 25 percent in manufacturing efficiency – even better as IoX technologies mature. Basically, by integrating Industry 4.0 principles, techniques and operating methodologies, tomorrow’s factories will be “intelligent.”
Why private and why 5G wireless?
The answer to why private is relatively straightforward. There are two main reasons. The first is because private networks can use both licensed and unlicensed spectrum. Having the option of using licensed spectrum gives the client much more control over network metrics (who uses it, footprint, spectrum, wireless technologies, privacy, etc.). Being able to use unlicensed spectrum offers a cost savings option.
The second is security. Private networks have the ability to be secured in a way that public networks cannot. In a nutshell, private networks have the ability to be fully controlled by the client, using whatever security scheme they wish.
The answer to why 5G is also relatively straightforward. Most significant is the availability of both existing and new spectrum, and bandwidth manipulation within such spectrum. 5G offers the private client the option of acquiring 10s to 100s of megahertz of contiguous spectrum in the mmWave bands. This is crucial for two reasons; the number of devices and the speed of the network. If the manufacturing campus is extensive, sub-6 MHz spectrum offers an extended coverage area if necessary.
In addition, combining both mmWave and sub-6 GHz networks offers flexibility unheard of in earlier private networks. This works because 5G networks can integrate Industry 4.0 platforms such as virtualization, self-organizing/healing networks and automated software control of the hardware (both digital and analog).
An avant-garde example of this concept is being developed by Mercedes-Benz. Not only is this going to be on the cutting edge of the IIoT, but it will be one of the first use cases of a private 5G network. They are building a state-of-the-art automobile production plant in Sindelfingen, Germany. It is going to use 5G, and local Wi-Fi networks, to automate much of the M2M-connections, and the related systems across a 20,000 square meter facility.
Critical to Mercedes-Benz is security – primarily keeping data in and keeping hackers out. The entire 5G network is secured. That transmits sensitive production data within the organization without passing through any third parties.
Next is the ability of 5G to offer low latency. A private 5G network can offer amazing latency numbers because they have smaller footprints, and devices can be chosen with that as a design criterion. Software can be chosen and optimized for latency, as well.
Finally, it is about the data. Large scale manufacturing facilities, integrating AI, will generate huge volumes of data. Such voluminous amounts of data can only be handled by plenty of bandwidth. 5G can provide that.
The private scenario is attractive to such operations because it allows full control of the network by the client. This creates the ability to optimize processes, making them more precise, flexible and efficient. It also allows the client to customize functionality. For example, linking product tracking data to the assembly line. This can help improve the efficiency and precision of the processes.
Mercedes-Benz is not the only one finding private networks attractive. Recently, Audi announced it will set up a 5G network trial with Ericsson (who is involved with Mercedes-Benz).
Going forward, I have discussed that early use cases for 5G will fall along such lines rather than enhanced mobile broadband (eMBB). Not only manufacturing, but segments like agriculture, infrastructure, utilities, transportation, and the like are all early verticals for 5G. This is where the proving ground is showing up. And, it will also be the place where RoI is likely to first appear.