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How 5G can bridge the physical and the digital to bring us Industry 4.0

Obstacles may slow the transition down, but Industry 4.0 is moving full steam ahead. 

How 5G can bridge the physical and the digital to bring us Industry 4.0
[Tiko / Adobe Stock]

Industry 4.0 is coming—the fully-automated end of the digital transformation rainbow. Public 5G networks are built from the outside in, which means they cannot guarantee reliable coverage in all corners of all rooms where an industrial facility would need it to happen. However, private 5G networks can.

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With its capacity for massive machine-to-machine communication and extremely low latency, large enterprises with their own private 5G wireless networks can reach new heights in operational efficiency. 5G was designed for this!

As more industry leaders join the ranks of Bosch, Ford, Fujitsu, General Motors, and others that have rolled out private 5G networks at their facilities and seen success, the rest of the world will likely follow.

5G IS A WHOLE NEW ANIMAL

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Back when they first came out, smartphones brought us a serious boost in efficiency, but connections at the time were terrible until 4G emerged to save the day. It was set up and built almost exclusively to support the growing use of smartphones, and suddenly, streaming music and movies in the palm of your hand became a new reality.

Now, there are already over six billion smartphones in the world, and another 1.5 billion will enter global circulation by 2026. While 4G revolutionized smartphones, it was never designed to reliably support the high precision, real-time robotics, and massive machine-to-machine communication industries need to automate. Industry 4.0 needs a whole new reality.

Private wireless networks put the power of 5G into the heart of a company. 5G comes with vast bandwidth, high data rates, ultra-low latency, high security, reliability, and scalability to accommodate more devices. Connecting devices to the internet of things facilitates automation, which can improve efficiency for all industries at all stages of production. In 2017, research projected that IoT would jump from 27 billion connected devices to 125 billion by 2030. 4G was never meant to handle that—and with private 5G networks, it doesn’t have to.

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PRIVATE NETWORKS BRING A NEW LEVEL OF CONTROL

With concerns around cybersecurity, businesses may want more control over all their data, housing it inside their own firewalls rather than on a public network or using a shared Wi-Fi spectrum. With private wireless networks, no one can even use your network without your explicit approval. A company can decide which applications they need to run and where on the premises they need reliable coverage. By controlling your own network, you control its performance.

You may know roughly what your network usage is today, but ask any IT organization what it will be tomorrow and it’s likely no one has a clue. Who could predict tomorrow’s business needs when new applications and devices are coming into the network every day?

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Imagine a company budgets running their applications on a wireless network thinking their needs will be X, but they forget to calculate one data-dense system, like video camera surveillance. They end up going over their budgeted cost after only hours of usage and start paying overages at 6 a.m. on the first of every month. With a private 5G network, however, even if a company miscalculates its needs, it still has unlimited data usage with no risk of performance degradation. There would be no impact at all.

A NEW WAY TO FLY

4G is enough to handle consumer smartphone use, but private 5G coverage can really make a difference in industries with large quantities of data-dense devices that need high-latency exchanges, like manufacturing plants, warehouses, and airports. Airports need many wireless systems, including a public mobile network, public Wi-Fi, a private mobile radio network for operational communications, and public safety networks for security.

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With its capacity to unify and future-proof airport communications, experts are calling 5G the only wireless option. While running consumer traffic on separate Wi-Fi or operator networks, private 5G would enable airports to keep critical business applications on their own wireless networks, safeguarding that space in data usage and ensuring greater predictability.

An airport is a place of dynamic movement happening all the time, so getting coverage everywhere is a challenge. When people check their luggage at the ticket counter, the airline clerk scans it into the system to make sure it gets where it needs to go, but when it gets underneath the terminal to the tarmac, someone has to scan it again.

Efficient tracking should be done as close to real-time as possible, but it requires a reliable network as items move around the airport. A lot of passengers using Wi-Fi at once cuts into the airport’s limited network capacity, and airport scanners might not get a connection.

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This happens all the time, usually when the airport is at its busiest and they depend on their applications most. Instead of this perfect storm causing delays, airports running on their own 5G networks can bring about a more seamless way to fly.

Based on some of our initial data on operational efficiency collected at a large airport hub, we’re already seeing significant differences in the use of private 5G networks. Still, hurdles stand in the way. Research has shown that 5G can operate safely on radio waves called C-Band spectrum without causing interference to aircraft radio altimeters, which measure vertical height, but the Federal Aviation Administration has continuing concerns about 5G rollouts near airports.

Unlike public 5G services, private 5G lets airports control their coverage in well-defined areas on the ground, not while planes are in the air. It also runs in an entirely separate spectrum band, far removed from aircraft equipment, which makes interference impossible, and these hurdles unnecessary.

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Despite pushback, confusion around 5G will likely settle as more enterprises adopt private networks with the potential to vastly outperform the rest. Obstacles may slow the transition down, but Industry 4.0 is moving full steam ahead.


Johan Bjorklund is CEO of Betacom, where he combines industry experience with a strategic and operational focus on building and growth. 

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