5G is here and it's getting ready to power your smartphone experience in the next few years. Will initial rollouts in Germany, US, and South Korea already in progress, we can expect to see mass-market adoption of 5G by 2025. However, unlike the previous generation cellular networks, 5G is not merely about offering more bandwidth and services on devices and smartphones. 5G opens up a new arena that will serve consumers and enterprises alike. It will usher in a new wave of digital transformation and will augment the capabilities of other emerging technologies like IoT, AI/ML, RPA & AR/VR.


This is a guest post by Amrita Gangotra 

Amrita Gangotra is a global leader in the 5G and digital transformation space. She has had an extensive experience in the global telecommunications industry spanning over 30 years and has served at the top management of telcos such as Bharti Airtel and Vodafone as a CIO and Technology Director.

Amrita is the executive director of ITYukt, a  boutique consultancy and advisory company she founded, that specializes in 5G, IoT, AI /ML based digital transformation for enterprises.  She also provides growth strategy advice to Tech SME and start-ups.

The content of this post is based on the transcript of the session conducted by Amrita as part of the Digital Futurists, 5G Group.  Know more about Digital Futurists.

In this blog post, let us explore the key capabilities and use cases of 5G that are geared towards the enterprises and the industries of the future.

The Game-Changing Attributes of 5G

The core network of 5G is being designed to introduce several attributes that will be the baseline for the networks of the future. 

1. Enhanced Mobile Broadband (eMBB)

Data speed in 5G is expected to be around 10 Gbps (much more than before on wireless). With these speeds, 5G can provide very rich user experience especially since rich content will be available on mobile/wireless devices.

2. Ultra-Reliable Low-Latency Communication (uRLLC)

5G network is being designed with sub-1-millisecond latency. Hence the IoT devices and sensors in factories, hospitals, oil & gas fields will work in a much more real-time manner.

3. Massive Machine type Communications (mMTC)/ Massive Internet of Things (mIoT)

MIoT serves billions of low-cost, long-range, ultra-energy-efficient devices, machines and things that need connectivity from remote locations as well as cloud applications with periodic, infrequent communication.

When different IoT devices have to talk to each other, they need to be synchronized time-wise. Hence we need a TSN (time-sensitive network). We are talking milli sec precisions here. 5G adds support for TSN ethernet adaption and QoS. 5G provides precise synchronization to a common 5G system time. 5G Rel-16 can interwork with existing wired TSN systems without changes.

4. Edge Computing Capabilities

5G technology will have edge computing capabilities ie. the access networks will become more intelligent and the number of pings to and from the mobile device/sensors to the core network will reduce, thus improving the battery life of the devices. This is called Multi-access edge computing (MEC) earlier known as mobile edge computing. With this, the core is getting spilled and some of the intelligence is moving to the edge on MEC

5. Network Slicing

In the 5G core, the infrastructure is changing completely. It will run on software-defined networks (SDN) and Virtual network function (NFV) environments. 5G in an SDN and NFV environment will provide the capabilities to the Telco to do network slicing. This is an important aspect that can be leveraged to serve different industry solutions and increasing the complexity of the network use cases. This is one of the revenue drivers for the Telcos / CSP (communication service provider)

Network Sllicing in 5G

5G Network Slicing

Considering that the 5G network can be sliced, you can configure the networks in various combinations of latency, bandwidth, reliability and availability parameters. This then allows Telco to offer their networks for various Enterprise use cases. So the network will make AI/ML, Analytics, Robitics and other digital assets to work more seamless and the use cases can be built use all these technologies.

Towards Enterprise Adoption of 5G

Now let us look at the Enterprise market. As per a 2018 report from Ericsson, 5G for Enterprise is a $1.3 T revenue market by 2020. The latest reports from IDC and others are showing this figure to be $4T by 2024 and $12 T by 2036 !!

The era from now till 2024 will is being called 4G+/5G-. The RAN (radio access network) elements are being rolled out rapidly but the transformation of the network core will take time. The 5G network core will be seen to seamlessly working with the RAN around 2024, when the real 5G era will be in motion in full swing.

Thus the manufacturing, healthcare, oil & gas, energy & utilities, smart cities use cases are becoming a reality and will see launched in the next couple of years. Industries like BFSI, retail will also be able to leverage the 5G technologies but will need to wait for the macro outdoor 5G network. The initial wave will start with indoor/campus use cases. Thus implementation of 4g+/5G- (private LTE, MEC and SD-wan) will see the light of day before full-fledged 5G (ie RAN and Core) based implementation.

Private LTE

Private LTE Network

There is a huge transformation happening in the industrial world to envisage the factories of the future and 5G has a major role to play. While Industry 3.0 was about moving the factory to become more digital and automated, Industry 4.0 is about ‘highly connected’ industrial processes. The businesses are transforming their factories to ‘factory of the future’ that are flexible, configurable, ubiquitously/wirelessly connected and highly secure.

Market Opportunity For 5G Private Networks

There are 14.5 million Industrial establishments worldwide. This includes 10.7 million factories, 3.3 million warehouses & 0.5 million Oil & gas fields, 50K transport & ports, 10K military base, 54K mines, 263K Hospital & Labs (Source: Harbor Research, IDC). Put together they hold billion+ variety of assets. However, only 3 % of the factory data is utilized for Industry 4.0 use cases.  One of the top reasons for this is not having an adequate & reliable Industrial network infrastructure. Let us focus a little deeper in the manufacturing process industry.

The key to any successful Industry 4.0 project is the factory data.  Little optimization or efficiencies can be achieved without having the data collected from multiple sources and delivered to the right application, at the right time.  And there is a multitude of meaningful data held in factory equipment. Additionally, integrated private network can be deployed and works with a public network (roll out by the Telcos or a MVNO network). This will typically work for the supply chain and distribution chain of the factory. The independent private LTE/5G networks would normally be within a campus area and the enterprise would manage the closed user subscriber base.

The Issue of Spectrum

If we talk about independent/private networks then naturally the questions of spectrum arises. For private 5G, also the Enterprise will need Spectrum. 

There are multiple spectrum options :

  • Licensed spectrum owned by mobile operators: Operators allocate spectrum in a specific industrial zone (ex. mines)
  • Dedicated spectrum with optional synchronized sharing: In some region's spectrum is dedicated for industrial IoT use (e.g., 3.7GHz Germany).

  • Unlicensed spectrum with asynchronous sharing: NR-U with asynchronous sharing can be used for private 5G networks that do not require eURLLC

  • Unlicensed spectrum with synchronized sharing: Synchronized sharing can provide significant capacity gains and eURLLC. 3GPP R16 is building new feature to enable sharing of  spectrum. Especially Revolutionary will be new rules for time synchronized sharing in unlicensed and shared spectrum. This is very vital for many industrial IoT applications.

Which option to choose will depend on the use case and the business case of acquiring the said spectrum. Business modeling of the direction that an Enterprise will take will be a critical exercise for most.

Empowering the Industries of the Future

Currently, information technology (IT) and operational technology (OT/operations) departments within an industrial manufacturing company could function fairly independently. Operations kept the plant running smoothly, and IT managed business applications from the front office.

The two teams occasionally collaborated on successful projects, such as implementing printers on the factory floor or servicing industrial PCs. Unfortunately, those opportunities were rare. Too often, it was a problem, not an opportunity, that brought IT and operations together. Whether it was a security incident, a system failure, or unplanned downtime, those encounters did little to breed trust and collaboration between the two teams. But the world of manufacturing is changing. To keep up, IT/OT relationships must change with it.

Tons of data is getting generated at the shop floor through PLCs, robotics and sensors are that getting deployed …sometimes in 10s of thousands in numbers. This data is of no use unless it is can be analyzed and actioned in near real-time to gain more productivity and quality at the shop floors.

With the implementation of private 5G network inside the factory premise, time-sensitive data can be analyzed on the edge nodes closest to the device generating the data. Data that can wait seconds or minutes can be passed on to an intermediary node that keeps an eye on operational data. The least time-sensitive data is sent to the cloud for historical analysis and storage.

5G In Factory premises

5g Deployment Within Enterprise

Key Manufacturing Industry Use Cases To Be Powered By 5G

Use Case 1:  Deploying a wireless private network on the shop floor 

Wireless can be a game-changer for any factory. It enables more flexibility and adaptability for remote monitoring, assembly line changeovers, and quality or supply chain initiatives. At the same time, it can lead to significant cost savings. It has been estimated that wireless (in the factory) can be up to 10 times less expensive than cable, with more flexibility, mobile benefits, and reduced maintenance and troubleshooting.

Use Case 2: Moving from Preventive Maintenance to Predictive Maintenance

Predictive maintenance technologies allow manufacturers to collect real-time data from the actual machines. As an example, drill machines in an aircraft manufacturing plant can be fitted with 5G sim and has onboard sensors that count the number of times the drill machine has been used by a technician, at what pressure, etc. This data is routed to the analytics engine via the private 5G network deployed on-premises. Instead of using estimates or best guesses, the factory management can now use real-time data intelligence from the factory floor to tap into the usage characteristics of all drill machines and their impact on the build quality of the aircraft. 

Shifting to a predictive maintenance approach significantly improves uptime, and it’s supported by IT/OT convergence. The operations team does its part by collecting key data from PLCs, machines, and sensors, while IT provides data analytics and other tools that give the data meaning. By digitizing the maintenance process, IT/OT teams make it possible to predict when any given device might fail, and intercede accordingly. resources are used. And because it makes it possible to analyze sensitive data at the source, it improves overall system security. The connectivity that enables this will be the intelligent hybrid/5G network.

Use Case 3: Troubleshooting with Augmented Reality (AR)

Augmented reality (AR) can also help technicians identify problems on the shop floor or production units more quickly. Unlike virtual reality, AR does not cloak the physical world; it simply enhances it with a digital layer. By utilizing an augmented reality solution and a tablet, the troubleshooter can identify the issue much more quickly and effectively, which frees up time both for resolving the problem and sharing the data more quickly between production sites.

This solution is already being utilized by a team of Ericsson researchers and engineers, who have already streamlined and improved the troubleshooting process by utilizing AR. The company found that their technicians spent approximately half of their repair time performing non-value activities, such as finding and linking schematics with layout files, fault info and troubleshooting instructions. With AR, the technicians have minimized the amount of time wasted simply trying to locate the problem, allowing them more time to perform tasks that benefit the company.

Use Case 4: Enhancing Supply Chain and Distribution Chain

Just-in-time concepts can be taken to another level when you can track goods on a more real-time basis using 5G networks. 5G enabled IoT sensors can track the moisture, location, temperature, shelf-life and other parameters of the goods. The integration of intelligent edge network working in conjunction with the public 5G network can trace the goods  throughout its journey from the supplier to the final customer.

Use Case 5 : Improving Safety and efficiency with Robotic and Human Interactions

Although autonomous robots are already used in factories (and retail spaces) across the world, for robots to be able to interact with the environment in real-time, large amounts of information will have to be transferred almost instantaneously. The enormous amount of intelligence that robots require poses a dilemma for manufacturers. Right now, they are forced to establish complex machine and control systems that slow development cycles and hinder uptake in new sectors.

Cloud robotics enabled by 5G will solve these problems by putting systems intelligence in the cloud and simplified robotics on the factory floor, amplifying their ease of use and efficiency. The key to productive robotics is a strong, reliable connection that is improved with 5G. By bringing the data closer to the source, 5G offers significantly better speed than previous iterations of wireless and significantly improved data. 5G also allows greater flexibility, which empowers manufacturers to keep modification costs low while being able to adjust to changes in the ever-evolving manufacturing environment.

Image Credits

Digital Futurists (DF) is an online community of like minded technology professionals and it has some of the smartest minds globally, pushing the envelope on bleeding-edge technologies (AI, Blockchain, IOT, Industry 4.0, Robotics, Computer Vision) and problems. DF members come from large enterprises and well-recognized start-ups and the goal is to foster collaboration for new business, mentorship, investments, learning across disciplines, and scaling. This community is a melting pot for all discussions surrounding technology, business, as well as mentoring and knowledge sessions. It is an exclusive, invite only telegram community with separate tracks on technology themes,  business functions and several DF city chapters from across the world.

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About the author 

Gaurav Thapar

Gaurav is an experienced telecommunication professional with 18+ years of domain expertise in enterprise connectivity products and services. He has held solutions consulting and product management roles for enterprise and wholesale segments. He brings a unique viewpoint to customers to make informed decisions about their technological investments. Gaurav is passionate in bringing forth the use cases around emerging technologies such SDN, Cloud (Private & Public), open-source software-based solutions, private 5G, 4G LTE and 5G BI and security solutions and frameworks like NaaS, Cloud SaaS and SASE etc. He has worked on point solutions like SDWAN, SDP, Secure Gateway and Cloud based Hosted Network Solutions (Virtual Networks). In his latest research work, He has studied the value proposition of 4G-LTE/5G BI and Broadband access for retail segment to develop product proposition for Connected & Digitized Global QSR chains in international marketplace.

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