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Private 5G networks can deliver the connectivity Industry 4.0 needs

Automation is key to enabling the economies of scale that large industrial manufacturers must achieve. We’re at the onset of the next industrial revolution, commonly known as Industry 4.0, which will deliver greater operational efficiencies and flexibility at lower costs. The drive towards Industry 4.0 will transform manufacturers through advances in everything from remote monitoring to advanced analytics to preventative maintenance, even within individual sites.

But all these advances rely on connectivity, which today tends to use either WiFi in unlicensed spectrum or fixed cables that are expensive, constrained to stationary assets and difficult to scale to the large number of devices that Industry 4.0 manufacturing plants will connect.

Private 5G campus networks can overcome these barriers, providing industrial manufacturers highly reliable, ultrafast networks that they control. Such networks are already becoming a reality worldwide, with Volkswagen, Daimler and BMW announcing plans to build their own networks, citing a need for greater control of specialised tailored networks that mobile operators can’t offer.

Spectrum is being made available for private 5G networks worldwide

Industrial manufacturers require spectrum to deploy private 5G networks. So, they’ve been lobbying for dedicated spectrum allocations via the 5G Alliance for Connected Industries and Automation (5G ACIA), formed of production and automation industry players and communication providers. At the same time, other bodies such as MulteFire and the CBRS Alliance are continuing to encourage adoption of private LTE networks.

As the map below shows, many countries are working to deploy private enterprise networks. For example, Germany has already apportioned part of their 5G spectrum for local licences to support industrial use cases and the UK has published plans to do so. While the US has already authorised shared use of the CBRS band and work is under way to transition this to 5G.


Private 5G technical capabilities map to the potential of Industry 4.0

Each Industry 4.0 application will require connectivity, and each will have different requirements in terms of throughput, latency, reliability and the number of endpoints. The figure below maps eight key applications of Industry 4.0 against their key connectivity requirements. It shows that, while the technical capabilities of 4G technology can serve individual use-cases, it wouldn’t let industrial clients achieve the full potential of operational efficiency gains. Instead it’s private 5G campus networks, capable of approaching fixed network performance levels (Gbps throughput, 2ms latency and reliability for extreme device densities) with the added benefit of mobility and deployment flexibility, that will enable this transformation. 

Why not just use WiFi?

Private 5G networks are preferable to WiFi when it comes to supporting Industry 4.0 initiatives for four key reasons:

  1. Avoiding interference - WiFi solutions operate in unlicensed spectrum and therefore are at risk of interference. This poses a serious risk, especially around disruption from other users in the band (nearby WiFi networks) or even malicious actors. Dedicated and licenced private networks avoid such issues causing communication downtime.
  2. Separation of enterprise and automated communications - today, manufacturing plants deploy WiFi for enterprise applications but use wired Ethernet for automated machines (for which connectivity is mission critical and can’t be subject to network congestion or downtime). Private 5G networks can deliver the mobility of wireless connectivity with the reliability and capability of fixed solutions.
  3. Technical capabilities - the 5G standard has technical capabilities that resonate strongly with the connectivity requirements of industrial automation. Whilst the technical capabilities of WiFi are sufficient for many use-cases, these often aren’t built into the IEEE 802.11 standards.
  4. Ecosystem support for industrial uses – there’s a growing ecosystem of stakeholders vested in mapping the connectivity requirements of industrial automation to the 5G standards and pushing for new proof of concepts. By contrast, the WiFi alliance has remained anchored to its goals of interoperability and ‘working anywhere’, which, whilst suited to consumer use, doesn’t foster innovation for industrial solutions.

What will these new private 5G networks look like?

Industrial manufacturer can deploy private 5G networks via commercial models that, in our experience, will fall into three broad categories:

  1. Self-managed private network – the manufacturer keeps complete control of the network build and digital capabilities. They can tune the network specifications and performance to exact requirements.
  2. Outsourced private network – the manufacturer requests a proposal for a managed private network based on its connectivity requirements. The service provider is responsible for the network build and is subject to exacting service levels. It might also help develop digital services or platforms to fully realise the benefits of private 5G network capabilities.
  3. Semi-private network via network slicing –amobile network operator uses network slicing to create a semi-private 5G network for the manufacturer. There’s flexibility in tuning the technical capabilities of the product to meet connectivity needs.

A key distinction for how manufacturing plants will choose between the three commercial models will be the balance they want to strike between network costs, control and complexity of deployment, as shown below. 

What’s next?

Private 5G networks are an exciting opportunity for industrial manufacturers and their entire ecosystem. The lobbying efforts for spectrum are succeeding and initial proof of concepts are now under way and will further refine private 5G technology and commercial models. So, now’s the time for manufacturers to invest in exploring how they can make the most of the imminent private 5G future.

Contact the authors

Contact the manufacturing process innovation team