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. Industrial 5G is expected to be available for use in Germany by 2023 and in Great Britain, the U.S., and other countries.
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.
Three questions for Herbert Wegmann, General Manager Industrial Communication and Identification
at Siemens, concerning the opportunities and limits of 5G.
People have been talking about 5G for some time now, but the standards for industrial 5G won’t be published until mid of 2020. Aren’t you getting impatient?
Hermann Wegmann: No, because now it’s only a question of time. The important thing is that the requirements of industrial companies are being standardized in Release 16 (expected M2020) and 17 (expected E2021) from 3GPP, the international mobile radio standards organization. More important Another important step promoting the system’s acceptance by industrial companies was the decision of the Federal Network Agency to enable companies that want to use 5G in their factories to create their own local networks. Now it’s clear that in Germany we can use the 100 MHz frequency band between 3.7 and 3.8 GHz for industrial applications with a high quality of service. We’re happy about that, not only because we have advocated this policy but also because Industrial 5G will enable us to completely connect industry for the first time.
Which aspect of 5G impresses you most?
Wegmann: The numbers – one million connected units per square kilometer, a transmission rate of up to 20 gigabits per second, and a reaction time of only a few milliseconds. These numbers speak for themselves. But what impresses me most is the things that Industrial 5G will make possible. It can be used to develop completely new and flexible factory concepts. Companies will be able to dynamically adapt their production areas to current circumstances at any time, without having to make major changes to their infrastructure. Once we start to realize these possibilities, we will not be far from reaching the vision of of the self-organizing factory.
What are 5G’s limits?
Wegmann: Of course we have to have realistic expectations as we move ahead. If you picture the three advantages of 5G – the bandwidth, the number of connected devices, and the quality of service – in a triangle, you can’t expand all three sides indefinitely. For industrial applications, this means that if you need a high quality of service for deterministic automation systems, you’ll no longer have the entire bandwidth or the maximum quantity structure of 5G available to you. That’s why the local frequency band is so important for industrial companies. It’s the only way that each user can optimize the wireless network for its applications in ways that are similar to the approach of the cable-bound Time-Sensitive Networking (TSN) system.
Subscribe to our Newsletter
Stay up to date at all times: everything you need to know about electrification, automation, and digitalization.