Industrial 5G – The Wireless Network of the Future

Smartphone users as well as industrial companies are looking forward to the advent of the new 5G wireless mobile standard, thanks to which companies will be able to connect their machines and thus make their production plants and intralogistics operations more efficient, more autonomous, and more flexible than ever before.

Today most machines in factories are still connected by means of cables. But that will almost certainly change in the near future, thanks to the new 5G communication standard, which will be introduced in Germany starting in 2020. It will initially have a data speed of between one and 5 gigabits per second, subsequently increasing to 20 gigabits per second – a quantum leap that will make it between ten and 20 times faster than the system’s predecessor, LTE.


This is good news for smartphone users, because 5G will enable them to watch 4K films wherever they are, including outdoors. But for industrial companies it means much more. It’s a milestone on the road to Industry 4.0, in which comprehensive digital services and the Internet of Things will make smart factories more flexible and more productive.


5G is designed to be a wireless network that can unify everything, from automated shelving systems to production robots, air-conditioning systems, and control consoles. It will be a comprehensive network that will make it possible to control an industrial plant without any cables. It will be robust and either ultrafast or equipped with a comfortable bandwidth. “The opportunities are immense,” says Sander Rotmensen, head of Product Management for wireless industrial communication at Siemens. “Imagine a plant complex in which an autonomous vehicle fleet transports goods, spare parts or finished products between delivery ramps, factory halls and warehouses back and forth with timing that is precisely adapted to the production schedule. All of this will be made possible by Industrial 5G.” 

Ultrafast Reactions 

5G is attractive for industry, whether it’s the automobile sector, chemical companies or electronics manufacturing. It will make it possible to transmit the data generated by one million IoT devices per square kilometer in factory complexes. That could cover a complete production line and its associated temperature measurement and flow sensors, as well as autonomous mobile robots.


For the first time ever, reactions at the lower end of the millisecond range will be possible, allowing, for example, a robot arm to be stopped immediately if cameras identify a foreign object on a conveyor belt. In addition, 5G’s high bandwidth will, for the first time, make it possible to fully exploit the potential of augmented reality, which marks a new stage of interaction between human beings and machines.


As a result of these advantages, 5G’s market is expected to be huge. According to the “Mobile Economy 2019 Report” published by the GSMA – the mobile network operators’ association – 15 percent of worldwide wireless communication will be transmitted via 5G as early as 2025. Today $160 billion is being invested annually in the construction of 5G networks. According to this forecast, 5G will contribute $2.2 trillion to the global economy in the coming 15 years, and this increase will be driven primarily by the manufacturing industry and by public utilities.

Industrial 5G: Birth of a New Standard 


Of course, there’s nothing new about wireless communication in industry. For example, today Siemens uses a private WiMAX wireless solution with RUGGEDCOM WIN for many purposes, including rapid identification of leaks in oil and gas pipelines, monitoring and control of power networks on islands, and mobile transportation systems in factories. In addition, private LTE networks are already being used occasionally in locations such as factories and harbors. Siemens has been successfully using Industrial WLAN for wireless communication in industry for more than 15 years and fulfills all necessary requirements up to Wireless Safety. IWLAN is also being further developed in parallel with Industrial 5G, since private industrial frequencies for 5G are not available everywhere in the world. But such networks don’t even come close to 5G’s performance range.  “Not until now, with the advent of Industrial 5G, has it been possible for us to completely connect industrial companies,” says Herbert Wegmann, head of Industrial Communication and Identification at Siemens (see interview).


However, in spite of this promising outlook, 5G technology is not yet universally available. Although the international mobile radio standards organization 3GPP (3rd Generation Partnership Project) published the standards for 5G components for commercial mobile wireless networks at the end of 2018, it has still not published any specific requirements for the industrial 5G standard. It expects to fill this gap by mid of 2020. Moreover, in Germany it was not clear for a long time whether industrial companies would be able to use their own frequency bands or would be dependent on telecommunication companies. 

Promoting 5G in the U.S. and China

This issue was addressed by an international association for the protection of industrial interests, the 5G Alliance for Connected Industries and Automation (5G-ACIA), whose members include Siemens and other operational technology (OT) and IT companies. Thanks to their efforts, it was possible to reserve a 100 megahertz band between 3.7 and 3.8 gigahertz in Germany that can be used exclusively by industrial companies for their local networks. “It makes sense to give industrial companies direct access to these frequencies,” says Rotmensen. “After all, we are the ones who know the requirements of our plants best of all – and we can therefore optimize the network in line with our specific applications.”


After 5G has been installed, there will be no more obstacles to setting up smart factories – assuming Industrial 5G is established worldwide. With this in mind, companies are working intensely to launch 5G in two of the most important global markets, the USA and China. “Siemens will offer solutions for industrial 5G even before local industrial networks are up and running,” says Rotmensen. “That’s because this development has of course been going at full blast at Siemens, as well as at other companies, for a long time.”

Realistic Expectations

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.


Hubertus Breuer


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