A 5G network for every factory
Preparations are moving at full speed. In just a few years, many companies will be able to network their plants completely wirelessly, making their production more efficient, autonomous, and flexible than ever before thanks to local 5G networks.
Over the next few years, private 5G wireless networks will be set up at industrial sites wherever companies need robust, ultrafast networks with a high bandwidth. From automated racking systems and production lines to augmented reality and robots, the new mobile communication standard will control hundreds of thousands of devices per square kilometer in real time.
Siemens will be launching the first industrial 5G router in spring 2021. For Hannover Messe 2021, Siemens is setting up a private 5G campus network with a focus on industrial use in one of the exhibition halls in Hanover.
The attraction of 5G for smartphone users is obvious: For example, it allows them to watch 4K videos wherever they want. But it’s far more important for industry. It’s a milestone on the path to Industrie 4.0, in which smart factories become more flexible and productive thanks to end-to-end digitalization and the Internet of Things. 5G is 10 to 20 times faster than today’s LTE and consumes only one-thousandth of the amount of energy per bit transferred.
“Low latencies, extremely high bandwidths, control over one’s own data, having control over the network performance – private networks open up previously unimagined opportunities for industry,” says Sander Rotmensen, Head of Product Management for Industrial Wireless Communication at Siemens.
Collaborating with telecommunications companies
But according to the schedule, several stages have to be completed in the coming years before private networks can become a reality. Germany completed the first stage last March. As part of an auction of 5G frequencies to mobile network operators, the Bundesnetzagentur (Federal Network Agency, BNetzA), reserved part of the spectrum – between 3,700 MHz and 3,800 MHz – for local networks in industry, research institutions, and agriculture.
This success was largely due to support from Siemens and other well-known industrial companies and associations. This frequency band is ideal for small-scale applications. “It makes sense that industry should have direct access to these frequencies,” says Rotmensen. “We know our plants’ requirements better than anyone. In the final analysis, what’s important for industry is to work as efficiently as possible, which also means maximum availability of the network infrastructure.”
It comes as no surprise that German companies like Audi, Mercedes-Benz, BASF, and even Deutsche Messe AG are already investing in 5G. The foundations for industrial 5G networks are also being laid elsewhere. For example, the Citizen Broadband Radio Service (CBRS) initiative in the U.S. is offering the frequencies between 3,550 MHz and 3,700 MHz for local networks. Ofcom, the British office for communications, announced in a white paper published in June 2019 that it plans to make the frequency bands from 3.8 to 4.2 GHz, 1,800 MHz, 2,300 MHz, and 26 GHz available to local operators.
But before industrial companies can work with these frequencies, the 5G standard has to be further developed to accommodate industrial requirements. The first step will take place in mid-2020 with “Release 16” from the international mobile network committee 3GPP. This will make it possible to start developing hardware – infrastructure and terminals – for local production facilities. And once frequency usage fees have also been clarified – a significant detail required for investments in industrial 5G – nothing will stand in the way of initial proof-of-concept demos.
Wireless communication is being further developed
The benefits of private networks are obvious. Companies can track, store, analyze, control, and flexibly configure data traffic at their own discretion. This allows them to guarantee the speed and reliability that their processes – all their logistics and production sequences – require. “As soon as Release 16 is issued, we’ll test its concrete potential,” says Rotmensen. “But it’s already clear that 5G is ideal for companies that want to track production in real time or process data at the “edge” of their own network (Edge applications) without first having to send everything to the cloud.”
It’s true that wireless communication in industry is nothing new. With RUGGEDCOM WIN, Siemens is already using a private WiMAX radio solution in various sectors, but the focus is on the smart-grid environment for monitoring and controlling power grids. In addition, there are already a few isolated private LTE networks, for example in factories and ports. Siemens has been successfully using an industrial WLAN for wireless communication in industry for over 15 years and fulfilling all the necessary requirements, up to and including wireless safety. Along with industrial 5G, IWLAN is also undergoing further development, because private industry frequencies for 5G aren’t available everywhere in the world. However, none of these solutions offer anywhere near the range of services of 5G.
Private spectrum must be established worldwide
Nevertheless, on the path to industrial 5G it’s also important that the private spectrum for local applications be established internationally, because only then can 5G-based technologies be successfully used in industry worldwide. “Before any local industry networks are launched,” says Rotmensen, “Siemens will extensively test solutions for the industrial 5G network.
updated March 2021
Subscribe to our Newsletter
Stay up to date at all times: everything you need to know about electrification, automation, and digitalization.