The opportunities that a more advanced connectivity network is promising continue to escalate, and with good reason. But there are still problems that need to be overcome if the promise of 5G is to become a beneficial reality.
In a nutshell, 5G promises faster speed, reduced latency, a more reliable connection and should we need it (and let’s be honest, we probably do) the ability to connect many more devices to the internet.
For the industrial industry, it could mean access to more data in real-time, resulting in improved understanding of operations, machines and employees, this leading to better efficiency, productivity, less downtime and theoretically higher profits.
Recently, the UK’s first live 5G factory trials began at Worcester Bosch, which forms part of the Worcestershire 5G consortium, this marked the first time that British industry has deployed the next gen technology.
Overcoming a digital connectivity divide
Often large factories are located outside small towns or in more rural areas. If you have ever ventured out of the city then you will know that these areas tend to have poorer connectivity; 3G let alone 4G can be a struggle.
How can it be ensured that these regions don’t get left behind in a potentially larger connectivity divide?
Rolling out rural 5G
The 5G RuralFirst project is an initiative led by Cisco alongside the University of Strathclyde and a consortium of other partners from across business, government, and academia.
Its principle goal is to create rural testbeds and trials for 5G wireless and mobile connectivity across three main sites; the Orkney Islands, Shropshire, and Somerset. These sites were chosen as they suffer from poor connectivity.
In Shropshire for example, the ‘Hands Free Hectare’ project aims to test whether it is possible to control autonomous systems via 5G remotely, meaning arable land can be maintained from a device offsite.
In Somerset, the South West Dairy Development Centre is using advanced technology including sensors, IoT and automation, and plans to use 5G to develop techniques that could improve productivity in dairy farming across the UK.
The £1.3m, 180-cow unit forms part of the Agricultural Engineering Precision Innovation (Agri-EPI Centre) project, an initiative funded by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) via Innovate UK.
Duncan Forbes, Agri-EPI Centre project manager sat down with The Manufacturer at the site, he said, “At the moment, all of the data from these sensors has to go into a system/pc onsite here before it can go into the cloud. 5G will allow this to be remote, the data could go straight from the sensor to your smart device.
“The next generation of mobile signals is very different to the current generation, one of the things it could do, is make the deployment of this technology, sensors, automation and so on, much faster.”
He adds, “As I understand, 5G will require fewer masts but it will have much better coverage. One of our use cases is the Afimilk sensor on the cow’s collar, which could transmit all of the data about that cow, her activity and milk production in real-time straight to your phone.”
Security remains a key concern
If the UK can get 5G up and running across the entire country, the next pressing issue could be its security. Chinese company Huawei being the most clear example of late.
40% of businesses see the risk of cyber attacks as the most concerning aspect of the new high-speed mobile network, according to a recent survey from EY.
This concern is also mirrored by the World Economic Forum (WEF), which lists cyber security as a top concern for businesses across the globe in the year ahead.
Manufacturing has too become the most targeted industry sector in the UK, representing 46% of all cyber attacks in 2017, according to research by NTT Security.
Despite this, 59% of businesses are either currently investing in 5G, or plan to do so over the next two years, EY also reported.
The high-speed mobile network is going to happen and business wants it too. Having a security strategy which is effective and relevant is a tall order, but it is one that is imperative to implement. The rollout out of 5G also needs to reduce any digital connectivity divide between urban and rural areas, meaning projects like 5G RuralFirst and the first live 5G factory trials are critical.