Phil Young, Director for Policy, Research and Strategic Engagement at Digital Catapult, looks at how multiple new use cases are evidencing the real-world benefits and value of industrial 5G.
5G is the first mobile technology designed to support the digital transformation needed to deliver Industry 4.0. However, back in 2019, manufacturers were telling us that it was hard to visualise the benefits 5G would deliver, even though many recognised how advanced digital technologies could support industry productivity. What they needed was real-world examples, results and measures, and a clear picture of what would be needed for 5G innovation.
New use cases are delivering clearer understanding
In 2020, the UK government’s Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) launched the Industrial 5G Testbeds and Trials (IG5TT) programme, coordinated by Digital Catapult. It’s one of the UK’s key programmes for experimentation and learning from early deployments of 5G within manufacturing and logistics, engaging with industry, telecoms experts, business groups and the academic sector.
Eight I5GTT projects (5G ENCODE; 5GEM-UK; 5G Factory of the Future; 5G CAL; AMC2; Smart Junctions 5G; 5G Ports; and 5G Logistics) have been identifying the real-world benefits, challenges and considerations relating to 5G adoption through a wide range of use cases in manufacturing, transport and logistics, including:
- Using augmented reality (AR) and/or virtual reality (VR) devices (such as headsets) to support design, manufacturing and training, and provide access to on-the-spot support from remote experts
- Monitoring and tracking time-sensitive assets
- Providing real-time process monitoring and analytics, plus closed-loop control to reduce waste
- Switching autonomous vehicles to remote manual operation in emergency situations
- Tracking and tracing assets to improve scheduling and performance
- Using artificial intelligence (AI) to reduce traffic congestion and pollution while improving flow
Why not stick with 4G or WiFi?
While there are situations where 4G can be used (such as for tracking containers and pallets), it simply doesn’t deliver the rapid response and speed of data transfer that industry needs. And because WiFi is constrained by regulatory conditions, covering a comparable area at the same quality of service as 5G would be difficult and more expensive, even considering additional 5G costs.
For example, as well as securely tracking goods and equipment as cranes and containers move through ports, 5G can also enable traffic management at smart junctions around the port and support automated drone flights for port police operations. It also enables the adoption of technologies that require significantly higher throughput, such as predictive maintenance systems, without the need for a physical network.
In some trials, WiFi could potentially have met some of the requirements, but it lacks the security and reliability advantages of 5G, especially when it comes to supporting the use of mobile devices such as VR headsets.
A private 5G network also provides essential additional security for manufacturers who are cautious with their data and want to process it locally. Most projects reported that they implemented all 5G security measures, and some provided enhanced levels of security for industrial devices, such as certification for non-5G elements that could be validated when the device registered on the network.
There’s still a way to go, but we’re making great progress
I5GTT project partners, industry vendors and DCMS have been able to make rapid progress in addressing some of the challenges identified, and in taking advantage of relevant opportunities through shared learnings.
“We have gained practical technical knowledge on how to make Industry 4.0 use cases work within 5G powered wireless digital infrastructure,” said Jessica Rushworth, Digital Catapult’s Chief Strategy & Policy Officer. “This has translated into a deeper understanding of the potential business value of different technologies. Most importantly, it has given us valuable insight into the challenges of adoption within industry.”
Even as understanding of the benefits of 5G increases, there are still challenges to be faced. Until recently, 5G specifications, standards and system integration guides and expertise have mainly been focused on the consumer domain. Availability of 5G compatible industrial products is limited. And there is still a lack of 5G expertise in industry.
To fully realise the value of 5G, collaboration between the telecoms industry and other industry sectors will be vital. A closer working relationship will deepen and broaden the exploration of what is possible, as organisations learn together how existing 5G and new systems can be integrated and deployed in real-world environments, and how new business models will evolve over the coming months and years.
“The next stage, as the technology matures and some of the technology barriers are overcome, is to understand better what the blueprint for a 5G-enabled advanced digital infrastructure for industrial enterprises will be, and to create the supply chain that can meet its requirements” added Dritan Kaleshi, Digital Catapult’s Director of 5G Technology.
Maintaining momentum and keeping testbeds under active development will help to create demand for Industrial 5G, so that we can consolidate the UK’s status as a growing leader in the 5G innovation space, and accelerate the transformation to Industry 4.0.
- Real-world benefits of 5G are starting to be realised
- 5G offers speed, reliability and security advantages over 4G and WiFi
- Much of 5G is still very much consumer-focused
- Collaboration between telecoms and industry will be key
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