A frequently heard statement is that the real use cases for 5G are currently still often found in the large business segment. The industrial sector, in particular, can benefit greatly from this. Certainly, now that Industry 4.0 is gradually gaining ground. According to network supplier Ericsson, it is of great importance that operators, the industry and suppliers of 5G networks work together to achieve this.
Like all other business sectors, the industry is currently going through a digital transition. Smart applications in factories and production processes, not just robots, but a whole range of sensors or AR and VR applications, are increasingly being used to make the production process more efficient, to set up production more flexibly, to increase and to realise less waste. An additional advantage is that smart production processes also result in less waste.
The advent of 5G
The arrival of 5G is extremely important for the successful application of Industry 4.0. All the more so because other wireless technology – such as wifi, LoRa and Bluetooth – do not deliver the desired properties. Think of higher reliability, higher speeds, more capacity, better security, and lower latency.
These properties make it possible to connect not only the numerous sensors in industrial machines and control systems, production robots or automated guided vehicles (AGVs). The combination with other processes, from inventory management, tracking and logistics to the various CRM software within industrial environments, can also benefit from the arrival of 5G for connectivity.
With the arrival of 5G as a stable and especially fast connection within industrial environments, solutions and applications such as edge and cloud computing, artificial intelligence and big data processing can also be deployed more easily. This gives companies an even better real-time picture of what is going on in their environments and enables them to adapt their production and operational processes ‘on the fly’. This makes them even more efficient and productive.
Of course, 5G also provides better outdoor and indoor coverage, which is particularly interesting for larger factory complexes. This allows them to reduce the number of antennae to be installed and thus also to save costs.
Deployment of private 5G networks
At the moment, there are several routes for the industry where 5G has to help companies to work ‘smarter’ and to optimize their production processes. This can be done with private 5G networks where – in a mobile spectrum auction – a separate part is reserved for companies or certain vertical market segments. In this way, companies or market segments can design their own 5G connectivity and use it as they see fit. With this spectrum, they can roll out their own applications and solutions.
Opportunities for telecom operators
Another option is, of course, working with telecom operators, which is actually more convenient. These providers often already own part of the available 5G spectrum through the spectrum auctions and can use parts of it specifically for certain applications. Using ‘network slicing’, they can then reserve parts and make them available to companies or vertical segments. They can then help the customers in question to roll out and implement 5G in their business environments. Telecom operators can make good money off of this.
However, it is remarkable that many telecom operators are not yet really working on these kind of applications, Ericsson Nederland CTO Jeroen Buijs informs us. According to him, as far as the Netherlands is concerned, the three mobile operators are working on this, but still on a limited scale. However, there is enormous potential. Think, for example, of the glasshouse horticulture sector, which is now also going through a stormy digital development.
Buijs believes that the interest in the further development of 5G can be increased for the industry. According to him, this requires cooperation between all interested parties, the industry, the telecom operators and the network suppliers.
Center of Excellence
As a 5G network supplier, Ericsson wants to stimulate this cooperation between the various stakeholders. To this end, the Swedish supplier has set up a Center of Excellence Industry 4.0 in Aachen, Germany – where Ericsson’s own Eurolab research centre also happens to be located. This joint research lab will bring the technical people of these parties together to develop solutions and applications for 5G within Industry 4.0.
The Center of Excellence Industry 4.0 is housed at the Ericsson Eurolab R&D center. It works together with the Center of Connected Industry, a research and practice test centre that offers academic institutions, technology suppliers and companies a variety of solutions for connected Industry 4.0 development. These concepts can not only be developed there but can also be extensively tested on-site in a real production environment or factory.
Ericsson’s Center of Excellence Industry 4.0 should serve as a kind of incubator where the industrial solutions in the field of 5G are developed and actually presented in working order. For example, at the Center Connected Industry plant. The solutions and applications developed can then be standardized and supplied to the mobile operators by Ericsson as a kind of ready-made package. They can then help their customers with the actual roll-out and implementation.
Ericsson Industry Connect
For example, the network provider already offers its Ericsson Industry Connect solution for Industry 4.0. Specifically, this is a one-size-fits-all private mobile network for industrial environments that offers extremely secure high density, predictable latency and reliable coverage. The solution, currently based entirely on LTE, consists of a baseband unit and indoor radio appliance in combination with the Ericsson Radio Dots. There is now also a 5G NR version of the baseband unit, indoor radio appliance and Dots.
Although the first products have yet to come from the recently established research centre, Ericsson has of course been prepared for the demand for 5G connectivity within the industry for some time now. It therefore now has a number of dedicated solutions available or under development.
However, this 5G version is still non-stand alone, which means that it builds on the LTE functionality provided by mobile operators. Within non-standalone 5G, 5G spectrum is used, among other things, to increase the capacity and speed of mobile broadband connections.
Management at Ericsson
The solution can be ordered via a mobile operator, says Buijs. The mobile operator can deliver this product to the factory and roll it out. Ericsson can then do the operations and maintenance management for the customer in question. The systems are then monitored remotely and -professionally or not- action is taken. The network supplier can take care of this work for the mobile operator.
Customization in more complex cases
For more complex cases, e.g. where many people congregate, and therefore many devices are in circulation, more customization is of course necessary. This is because there is more interaction with the macro network. Think of hospitals, but also of ports. According to Buijs, a port itself would benefit from a standard solution, but due to the frequent entry and exit traffic of lorries – soon to be autonomous lorries – true customisation does make a difference.
Industrial Edge Cloud and AR/VR
Other solutions that are coming soon include Industrial Edge Cloud and AR/VR applications. Industrial Edge Cloud makes it possible to control robots via VR remotely. This includes the intervention of an edge data centre close to the robot’s installation location and a second edge data centre close to the VR operator. In between, mobile telecom operators provide the connections (via 5G). The connectivity with and between the two edge data centers also makes it possible to roll out and run various applications via IaaS, containers and Kubernetes.
Ericsson is also working on various other AR and VR solutions that can perform various industrial tasks with the help of connectivity via 5G. For example, maintenance or control activities that can be switched directly to solve problems.
A good step towards cooperation
5G is going to be of great importance to the industry, especially now that this industry is on its way to digitalisation. Nevertheless, everybody has to be on the same page. As a network supplier and one of the important links in this entire industrial transformation process, Ericsson takes a clear position, in our view. Industry 4.0 is now inescapable and, as a supplier, Ericsson wants to provide the solutions that industrial companies really need in order to make a difference.
Good cooperation between all stakeholders, network suppliers, telecom operators and the end customers is indispensable. With the establishment of the Center of Excellence Industry 4.0, the company creates a good place where all these parties can work together on the right solutions. Therefore, we are curious to see what this development will yield in the coming years.