At today’s 5GLIVE conference, a panel of experts discussed 5G’s emerging potential to reshape the manufacturing industry, as well as some of the leading challenges that start in the way

It is widely accepted that 5G will play a key role in unlocking Industry 4.0, particularly as it relates to the manufacturing industry. With faster, more reliable, and more secure connectivity, the technology will unlock numerous efficiencies, from using machine learning and AI to process real time data gathered from the IoT to automation of the production line.

“If we manage to increase the efficiency and productivity by a small percentage, that already amounts of a huge increase, in the order of several billion euros globally. So, there is a lot of value to be unlocked by 5G,” explained Andreas Müller, General Chair, 5G-ACIA.


A complementary ecosystem

But while 5G can unlock a huge range of new technologies, it should be remembered that not every use case will require 5G. In some cases, existing mobile technologies will be sufficient. 

“Have an intelligent, clever combination of 5G, 4G, narrowband IoT, and LTE-M. Having the frequencies available to offer those different communication technologies is really key,” said Marc Sauter, Head of Mobile Private Networks, Vodafone Business. “Factories will use many different use cases. For simple sensor that wants to read out the temperature of pressure, for example, you don’t need 5G – narrowband IoT or LTE-M will be perfectly suited.”

“But then you will also need to go into virtual reality and augmented reality, where ultra-low latency matters and you need high throughput in the uplink, which is often the bottleneck. These kind of use cases are going to need 5G,” he added.

Part of the issue here is that the hype surrounding 5G in the past few years has thrown it into the limelight to the detriment of other cellular technologies. However, for Ellinor Jepsson, Head of 5G Innovation Hub, TDC Net & Ericsson, TDC NET, noted that the was a potential silver lining to this ‘overhyping’ of 5G, with it actually encouraging industries to think more closely about mobile solutions in general. 

“The hype around 5G helps enterprises to think about how cellular technologies in general can help them realise use cases that they have not been able to before,” she said.

“5G does not stand alone in enabling the smart factory; it’s one part of a much wider conversation about a suite of connected technologies in enabling that goal,” agreed Sam Salih, 5G Private Networks Lead, Telefonica.

“Just because we now have the 5G hammer that doesn’t mean every use case should become a nail,” said Müller.


WiFi-6: Friend or Foe

The discussion then switched to 5G’s potential rivalry with WiFi-6 in an industrial setting, but all of the panellists were quick to dismiss any conflict, arguing that the technologies would be complementary. Much like the previous cellular technologies mentioned, WiFi-6 will not be able to compete with 5G in terms of penetration and capacity, and will not be able to support as many devices simultaneously, but this does not mean it is not a viable alternative for specific use cases.

“We used to talk about WiFi versus 5G in terms of competition, asking which one would succeed. Now, more people understand that these will be complementary technologies that will be used in different scenarios,” said Jepsson. 

Vassilis Seferidis, CEO of Zeetta Networks Limited, noted that part of the challenge for cellular technologies in an industrial setting verus WiFi will be the building of a sufficient skillset. Industries have been using WiFi for many years, while mobile technologies will often be new to them.

“The fundamental difference here is a lack of skillset,” explained Seferidis. “This will only be overcome, allowing 5G to be as common as WiFi, when it is equally as easy to install as WiFi.”


The many flavours of private networks

Private networks, of course, will be at the heart of the 5G industrial proposition, with the panellists exploring many of the projects they are currently working on.

“I strongly believe that the most suitable applications for private networks are the ones in the context of industrial manufacturing, but also campus networks, airports, ports and smart logistics locations, like warehouses.” Sebastiano Di Filippo, Senior Director Business Development, Qualcomm Europe, Inc.

Sauter noted three different types of private network that Vodafone currently has operational with its partners: one that is entirely self-contained for the customer, a hybrid private network that is also connected to Vodafone’s public network, and thirdly a virtual mobile private network using network slicing to offer the enterprise a slice of the public network.


A shifting mindset

Overall, the panel was very positive about 5G’s future in the manufacturing sector, anticipating a far more connected and efficient future for the industry just around the corner.

“Where we are now, we are sometimes often too focussed on wanting to deploy a 5G network and what is the technical difference this provides, instead of focussing on the business problem that this technology will solve,” said Jepsson. “I hope by 2025 the whole ecosystem will understand what 5G, 4G, and cellular systems in general can do, and that we can develop a more common approach based on the business need.” 


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