Why private 5G is key to Industry 4.0

Posted on 2 Aug 2023 by The Manufacturer

Industry 4.0 promises a digital shift which will completely overhaul the way companies manufacture their products. From the Internet of Things (IoT) to cloud computing, AI and even drones, the raw potential of Industry 4.0 in manufacturing is enormous and critical. We’re looking at a revolution that will increase automation, bring self-maintaining machines, optimise processes improvements and even drive efficiencies to the highest of levels.

That’s the dream for every manufacturer, right? So what’s holding us back from making Industry 4.0 a reality?

Goodbye to Wires

Wired networks have always been a pain with their high costs, time-intensive deployment, and complexities, particularly in certain environments. An increasing number of industrial settings are now embracing WiFi as a superior alternative. Until now, most attempts to move to Industry 4.0 have relied on WiFi networks for connectivity.

Wireless WiFi, while great for giving us access to the internet in our homes or in an office, doesn’t have the reliability and continuous connectivity that’s needed to guarantee a fully robust, connected, and secure Industry 4.0 network – even with the new WiFi 6 evolution. WiFi was, first and foremost, designed for indoor and local area network use. But industrial networks require a wireless combination of indoor and outdoor connectivity, with a near-faultless reliability.

Only 5G cellular technology can guarantee the kind of wireless flexibility that’s needed. And that’s where private 5G, or a non-public network (NPN) enters.

5G private networks offer completely tailorable, wireless, secure, reliable, low-latency, and time-sensitive abilities for devices and services or applications within them. On top of this, they can guarantee connectivity to non-Industry 4.0 technologies such as drone deployments, automated guided vehicles (AGVs) or XR applications. That’s especially important when you don’t want a robot becoming disconnected and bumping into one of your on-site workers.

A private network for more secure data

In fact, a 5G private network is a game-changer when it comes to running data analytics securely. The process for analytics used to be as such: information was fed back from end devices to one central environment within the business, or the organisation’s cloud. From there, it would be processed, and then insights and actions would be sent back to the same devices.

Today, a 5G-powered private network means data analytics can happen right at the edge of the estate. Devices in dispersed locations across the infrastructure can process information on the spot, to understand if they need to be operating differently, and then they can act on that information autonomously.

This has a number of benefits. The first of these is quicker insights and actions, all based on secure, more reliable, real-time information. Secondly, there’s more shop floor flexibility – fewer access points are needed and none of your machines need wired connections to operate, so you can have connectivity exactly where you want it, which makes onboarding and tapping into new services much easier.

Plus, with fewer access points needed, it can save you a lot of money. Next, there’s sufficiently low latency for critical operations, and for the integration of new technologies – so you can trust in the uptime of the estate. And all of the above can be achieved with a user interface which is simple and enterprise friendly.

Planning a private network

The benefits of moving to private 5G networks are clear, so what do manufacturers need to consider when it comes to making the shift to Industry 4.0?

Well, the model and planning for a private network depends on the requirements of your organisation, the applications you have, your budget, your suppliers – and any regulatory restrictions. 5G private networks can be completely tailored to your business needs, and there’s a wide range of options available. These should be discussed in depth with your provider.

When having these conversations, try to think about the above, as well as what you really want to achieve: is it more mobility, lower latency, better security, a spectrum that is more reliable and tailorable, data sovereignty, or more capacity? Are you planning a Single Factory or Multi Factory roll-out? Or even running Connected Factories? Will you manage the estate yourself, or do you want to outsource it to a third party?

There’s a lot of choice and one size will never fit all. For example, even when you’ve decided to use a private 5G network, there’s the decision to use a public network integrated NPN (PNI-NPN) – a private network with a back-up connection to a public network – or a completely standalone NPN (SNPN).


Your choice will, ultimately, depend on what you want your shop floor to look like, the innovations you want to embrace, and how you see your set-up evolving by making use of new technologies in the future. Many companies are looking at adding drones or other AGVs to their factories.

In Airbus’s case, its deployment is focused on factory and process automation. This set-up can either be based on a SNPN or a PNI-NPN as either can connect as many devices as possible from tablets to automated machinery. A private network guarantees coverage and mobility at high performance when moving from inside to outside or around metal objects. Furthermore, data can be extracted from the shop floor to monitor machinery, and can layer this with AI to increase automation. As Airbus found, connecting with a cellular 5G network for reliable packet quality and integrated edge computing provided reliable and cost-effective AGV services.

Another use case could be the deployment of AR/VR in a manufacturing facility through digital twinning, where a digital modelling of a physical object is created for the designing, planning, training or debugging of the manufacturing process. Using edge computing and AIML applications, data coming from the digital twin can be analysed in near real-time speed and the machine can be adjusted by a human or automatically through a control feedback system to change speed, move position etc. in the production environment.

This will reduce the production defects. The digital twin, AR/VR glass or Hololens are used in conjunction for debugging and runtime movement and control of machines. In this case low latency, reliability and time synchronisation are key network features for your deployment. But if you’d also like to use video for analysis and detection, a high uplink 5G speed and bandwidth are required.

Both of the above highlight the exciting time we’re at in the world of manufacturing – and how 5G can aid this kind of innovation both now and into the future. Setting up an NPN can be daunting, especially with so much choice and so many options. Seek expert advice in advance to help guide you through any deployment with a tailor-made solution that’s the best for your organisation.

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About the author

Jo Gilbert is a Technical Director at the GSMA. She leads the GSMA Digital Industries activities which brings together mobile network operators, enterprises, and the wider ecosystem to connect the benefits of 5G in the industrial sector. With a career spanning 20 years in the telecom sector, Jo has supported organisations to harness new and emerging technologies such as identity, IoT, big data, artificial intelligence and 5G.