While many business verticals are looking to 5G technology to boost bottom lines and improve customer interactions, perhaps none is doing so more than the manufacturing sector — notably IoT — driven largely by the promise of the digital industrial revolution known as Industry 4.0. As such, industrial enterprises are increasingly considering deployment of private 5G networks.
A key feature of private 5G networks is the release of unlicensed spectrum, which enables companies to operate a private network without going through a mobile operator. This flexibility is driving mobile carriers to develop unique strategies for attracting industrial enterprise clients. Some operators are leasing their own spectrum to support private enterprise networks, while others are developing private wireless networks that are then sold to enterprise customers.
Regardless of how they’re built, the fact is that private networks are growing in popularity. Last year, private LTE and 5G networks accounted for some $2.5 billion in spending. With a projected CAGR of about 30%, the market is expected to surpass $5 billion by the end of 2021, according to market research firm ReportsnReports.
A number of factors are fueling this growth, including digital transformation initiatives and rising demand for highly reliable, secure wireless communications. Moreover, IoT, which underpins Industry 4.0, is driving new connectivity requirements for productivity, efficiency and quality of service (QoS).
5G’s technological advances are also propelling the growth of private networks. 5G provides enhanced broadband and throughput, ultra-reliable low latency and massive capacity for IoT. It also supports network slicing capabilities and low-power wide-area networks to support a full and cost-effective ecosystem necessary for effective industrial private networks.
Additionally, 5G enables easy upgrades, access and control via SIM card based credentials, and it enables simple interconnectivity between different technologies. 5G new radio will deliver guaranteed real-time response that’s critical for things like closed-loop motion control operations and remote robotics management. What’s more, 5G enables immense densification and IoT connectivity support, with guaranteed QoS for industries that have hundreds of thousands of sensors in relatively small areas.
Why go private?
Industrial enterprises face a number of challenges that private 5G networks could help address. Many rely on wired connectivity in their production facilities. However, such networks suffer from poor flexibility, scale and remote connectivity. In addition, current manufacturing networks depend on Wi-Fi, which isn’t reliable for mission-critical, always-on connectivity.
Equally important is the fact that carrier roadmaps and network timelines are not aligned to the needs of Industry 4.0. Instead, communications service providers are mainly focused on consumer services and have limited knowledge of the connectivity needs of advanced industrial networks. Consideration must also be given to the complexity of networks and the associated costs to companies that want to deploy them.
In contrast to wired networks, private 5G networks are managed locally and have dedicated equipment to provide local coverage that’s optimized for local services. The networks are optimized and tailored for industrial applications, especially those with stringent QoS and reliability demands.
Additionally, private 5G networks are dedicated and independent, ensuring data privacy and improved security. Such networks are driven by CIOs who control the technologies and digital transformation roadmap. Overall, private 5G networks provide control and flexibility by leveraging network slicing, vast bandwidth, light costs and low latency.
Last but not least, private 5G networks ensure a rapid return on investment — generally less than three years — and improved time to market for new products. Open architecture and cloud-based deployment serve to future-proof the enterprise platform, while also promoting product revenue growth.
How can organizations use private 5G networks?
Although private 5G networks are still in their infancy, a number of key use cases have emerged for manufacturing, including automated operations, track and trace, remote robotic manufacturing, predictive maintenance, remote product support and the integration of supply chains and inventory management.
Industrial facilities that are particularly well suited to take advantage of private 5G networks include:
- Shipping ports
- Transportation hubs
- Distribution warehouses
- Upstream and downstream oil and gas operations, as well as oil and gas transport
- Surface and underground mining operations
- Process manufacturing, hybrid manufacturing and discrete manufacturing plants
- Hospitals and labs
- Power plants
- Water treatment plants
A number of live trials of private 5G networks are already underway. In one trial, KPN and Shell have partnered to create a 5G network at the Port of Rotterdam for the preventative maintenance of almost 10,000 miles of pipelines. By combining ultra-high-definition cameras, the 5G network and machine-learning algorithms, maintenance of the pipelines is better predicted, and engineers receive needed information about the system on tablets that support augmented reality.
Siemens and Qualcomm recently announced that they have implemented what they claim is the first private 5G standalone network in a real industrial environment. BASF, a producer of chemicals, is also developing its own ultra-fast 5G network at its primary plant in Ludwigshafen, Germany. Volkswagen and Daimler also plan to independently create private 5G networks.
Challenges to overcome
Deploying a private 5G network isn’t without its challenges regardless of who owns it. Companies must consider the right business model for them. They can rely on a systems integrator to design and deploy the network or partner with a carrier that can outsource the solution to them. Either way, business case, network design, integration and deployment and operations must be defined in detail. The solution needs to reflect the enterprise’s IoT strategy, meet its objectives and leverage existing technologies. This will lead to improved service and lower ownership costs in the future.
There is no doubt that the next couple of years will be exciting ones for industrial enterprises looking to 5G to improve processes, increase productivity and enhance customer interactions. Private 5G networks will play an increasing role in making the promise of the Fourth Industrial Revolution a reality.
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