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AGL Virtual Panel: 5G in Industrial Settings Changes the Game

By J. Sharpe Smith, Senior Editor

5G wireless technology in the enterprise will have an outsized effect on corporate profitability, thus spurring economic growth in the United States, Bernard Borghei, executive vice president of operations and co-founder at Vertical Bridge, said during the Sept. 23 AGL Virtual Summit.

“We are in a new dawn where technology is going to start controlling a lot of things we do every day, professionally and personally,” Borghei said. “There are a lot of opportunities for individuals and entrepreneurs to take advantage of 5G to increase our economic performance and close the digital divide.”

The panel, dubbed “5G Goes Industrial,” discussed Industry 4.0, which is the evolution toward smart, autonomous operations in manufacturing and other factory processes where the physical domain links with the digital domain.

“For example, how do enterprises support Big Data, AI [artificial intelligence] analytics, cloud computing and augmented reality?” asked Tormod Larsen, ExteNet’s chief technology officer. “The IoT doesn’t always have to stand for the internet of things; it can mean the infrastructure of things. To operate smarter and more autonomously, you need a very different level of connectivity, high speeds with lower latency and better security.”

CBRS Making Industrial 5G Possible

The creation of the Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS) and the subsequent priority access license (PAL) auction of 70 megahertz of spectrum at 3.5 GHz will be a key catalyst in bringing 5G into enterprises in the form of private networks, according to Mike Connelly, who leads the corporate strategy team at Crown Castle International.

Clockwise: Paul Challoner, CBRS Alliance; Bernard Borghei, Vertical Bridge; Mike Connelly, Crown Castle; Tormod Larsen, ExteNet. Middle:Kari Willis, E Factor.

“In the rural areas, a very high price was paid for spectrum by companies wanting to provide IoT,” Connelly said. “One of the largest categories of bidders in the PAL auction was energy companies. In San Diego, Puerto Rico and Alabama, it was the energy companies that won spectrum.”

However, it is not necessary for an enterprise to have a PAL; general access authorizations allow companies to share the spectrum. “CBRS democratizes the process by which companies can deploy their own connectivity for their personnel and their IoT needs in a factory, a mine or a venue, instead of depending on a carrier,” Connelly said.

CBRS is nothing less than the dawn of a new era for private networks, which will allow companies to evolve to the next level of production and operations efficiencies, according to Borghei.

“CBRS becomes the enabler,” Borghei said. “Before, you had to depend on Wi-Fi, which has performance issues, or you had to work something out with a carrier for service where you don’t have your own frequencies and you are still subject to performance issues. With CBRS in play, large enterprises can now design their networks to fit their particular needs, with dedicated spectrum, security and low latency. That is where CBRS is going to play.”

CBRS, 5G Will Serve Multiple Needs in the Enterprise

CBRS unlocks the spectrum that previously wasn’t available and allows companies to tailor specific networks to their own specific communications needs, said Paul Challoner, director at the CBRS Alliance, who moderated the panel. He asked the panel about what some of those applications might be.

Through Vertical Bridge’s research, one of the most exciting applications of Industry 4.0 is the automation of end-to-end workflows by enterprises and manufacturers that have national operational offices, according to Borghei.

“Private networks will give them the ability to harvest, analyze and react to Big Data, which is going to be extremely important when you get into industrial IoT use cases,” he said. “AI is truly going to become a game changer. The efficiency that everyone has been chasing, the speed to analyze the data and making the appropriate decision is critical for industries, from healthcare to manufacturers and even stockbrokers executing trade orders.”

Connelly said he sees 5G playing an important role in asset tracking and people tracking from the factory to the warehouse.

“[It provides] the ability to do more flexible deployment of assembly line equipment in the plant without necessarily reconfiguring everything from a wiring standpoint,” he said. “The ability to have situational awareness can promote operations management, as well as supply chain management.”

Larsen said that watching a private network connect with a team of robots as they walk around a plant was one of the “coolest applications” of CBRS he has seen. CBRS-powered private networks can also be used by automotive manufacturers to perform firmware updates on the go, not only as the vehicles are being built, but also when they are at the dealership.

Where Is the Edge in an Enterprise or a Factory?

Positioning data centers nearby, a placement known as the edge, is an important factor in achieving the high data speeds and low latency needed for 5G and Industry 4.0.

Over the years, compute has moved around a bit. Initially, mainframes were maintained on premise and, eventually, data compute and storage were moved out to the cloud, but there are uplink bandwidth issues and latency issues with storing data in hyperscale data centers in the cloud that pose problems in a 5G world, Connelly said.

“Currently data is being decentralized by hyperscalers, such as Amazon and Microsoft, to more regionalized deployments,” he said. “You will see a slow but certain migration to a mixture of hard deployments, based on the amount of data needed at the edge. It could be on-premise data center or hybrid premise (a combination of on-premise and cloud), depending on the workload. For smaller sites that don’t depend on multiple racks of servers, you will see a shared near-premise deployment.”

Connelly added, “Before, we always said the edge is only as good as the connectivity, but now, increasing access to high-speed data depends on having edge-based compute for capacity and latency-based reasons.”

Wherever the edge is, Tormod summed up Industry 4.0, saying 5G and CBRS are opening up connectivity for mission-critical applications in the enterprise and the factory, which means more potential customers and more opportunities. “It’s a whole new world in terms of value creation,” he said.