How long before 5G is ready for industrial applications?
The 5G mobile communication standard has the potential to radically change industrial production processes: data transmission rates and latencies which could as yet only be achieved for wired applications will be very much a possibility with 5G Release 16.
This increased independence facilitates a high degree of flexibility in production. In addition, 5G will allow the integration of one million participants within a square kilometer area – a solid basis for IoT in production.
With its introduction imminent, General Manager for Industrial Communication and Identification at Siemens, Herbert Wegmann, envisions this technology becoming a significant trendsetter for industrial IoT. As emphasized by Wegmann in an interview with RFID & Wireless IoT Global, “5G will allow us to connect the industry in its entirety”.
A significant change from a Siemens point of view will come in the Fall of 2020 with standardization of the critical Release 16 by the global bodies. At the same time, the industrial communication expert maintains that expectations for the application of new technologies should not be overstated.
Implementation of 5G in industry
Mr. Wegmann, what does the industry need 5G for?
The level of automation for industrial production here in Germany, as in many other countries worldwide, is extremely high. New concepts in production are being devised continuously for existing requirements to ensure the fastest response possible to demands in the market. Efficient wireless solutions are required to increase this flexibility even further.
In this regard, 5G is the decisive next step for complete networking of industrial productions. That is the realistic target. Until then, important development steps must be taken, and application scenarios need to be defined in which proof of concepts can most likely be initiated.
All frequency auctions have been concluded. When are industrial applications going to be implemented with 5G?
I can say with a degree of certainty that we will be able to implement realistic proof of concepts and the first rollouts within the next 5 years following approval of Release 16. It’s only a matter of time. In Germany, the German Federal Network Agency has initially reserved a defined share of the respective frequencies for the industry. This very fact has significantly increased acceptance in the economy. And it could become a blueprint for other countries as well, for the sake of their competitiveness.
But back to Germany: Practical implementation will begin as soon as companies are able to apply for frequencies. As allocation of 5G network usage by the Federal Network Agency is subject to a 'use-it-or-lose-it' regulation, only those companies that actually want to implement the solutions will apply for fee-based usage. With this in mind, actual availability of suitable 5G Release 16 components must also be considered. Otherwise you’re paying for a service which you’ll end up losing again due to a lack of use. Moreover, you’ll be missing out on the opportunities which are provided for companies by the Industrial 5G.
What are the expectations for 5G?
If what is written in the media is to be believed, 5G is capable of anything and everything: from driving cars and ironing shirts to enabling digital refrigerators to take care of the shopping on their own. These perceptions stem from expectations that 5G will guarantee extremely fast internet wherever you are.
These expectations are further substantiated by technical key data, which allows you theoretically to download a blockbuster movie onto the smartphone in your pocket in under a second. Whether this will prove to be the case throughout all of Germany remains to be seen. Neither is this public sector the field of application which Siemens has in mind in striving to bring 5G to the fore.
For Siemens, the potential of 5G lies in the structuring of 5G networks within an industrial company.
How do public networks differ from private networks?
Essentially, 5G has three main characteristics: firstly, a considerably higher bandwidth in comparison to 4G, secondly the potential to integrate a much higher number of participants, and finally the quality of service.
This involves elements of reliability, strict realtime requirements, and latency. These characteristics can be viewed metaphorically as a triangle. Imagine this triangle were a bed cover: you can't pull on all corners at the same time and achieve the size of bed cover you wish. Rather the cover is displaced on one side as you pull on the opposite corner. With a view to the three characteristics then, if a high bandwidth is made available to multiple participants, the quality of service will automatically be reduced.
This scenario is more likely in public networks as this involves providing a high bandwidth to as many users as possible, for example, to stream movies in 4K. In industry, the demands are prioritized elsewhere. During production, 5G should transfer the data in real-time and without disruptive jitter. The quality of service is therefore of utmost priority. If this characteristic is amplified, the bandwidth is reduced, and the number of potential participants diminishes as a consequence. This does not, however, pose any problem for industrial use cases.
In Germany, the public frequencies have already been auctioned – amongst four mobile communications providers. Tariff agreements can already be finalized by private early adopters. What’s next for the industry?
The initially available range for companies in Germany has a width of 100 MHz between 3.7 GHz and 3.8 GHz. Usage can be requested for a fee from the German Federal Network Agency. As soon as the fee structure is defined, companies will be able to submit applications for frequency usage. Based on the current status, this will likely be late summer of this year.
If an industrial business can provide proof of their need for an individual frequency license in the application, then establishing a private network which can be used exclusively within the spatial restrictions of the site should no longer be a problem.
Only one small step from Standard Release 16 to production
Will Siemens apply for their own frequencies?
Yes, absolutely. Ultimately, our aim is to establish 5G infrastructures at our sites. We will be using these networks for our own processes and to develop solutions for our customers. There are numerous advantages in private networks for companies: generally, the companies know their processes – production and logistics operations – better than anyone. That is to say, they know precisely the network infrastructures which are required in the respective areas.
The second advantage is that they can define all parameters themselves, from the bandwidth to the participants, all the way to the quality of service. The element of security is of particular significance here. Wherever a business is using a private 5G network, no data is being transferred through the networks and servers of commercial mobile communication providers.
The level of security can therefore be regulated entirely by the company using the network. If a 5G network is to be used across multiple locations, it is possible to use server capacities of an external provider. With this arrangement, however, the data which may be transferred over an external server must be clarified before a final decision is made.
How do you imagine the 5G business model for Siemens, beyond improving the networking of individual locations?
A comprehensive technological knowhow is essential for any company looking to establish private networks, regardless of whether the company opts for an onpremise solution or a collaboration with an external provider. Siemens will offer this technological know-how along with the requisite hardware.
As soon as it becomes possible to apply for the frequency, and the 5G Release 16 has been published (no later than December 2020), an increase in the pace of development will be even more evident.
What is included with Release 16?
With its publication in March of 2018, Release 15 included standards which focus on the feature of high transmission rates, and thus on the consumer market in public networks. Release 16 will introduce standardized industry features, which present 5G as an appealing and realistic prospect for automation. This includes the 'Quality of Service' and real-time capability functions. Standard release of the 3GPP, the global cooperation of standardization bodies for mobile communication, rounds off the second phase of 5G standardization.
The advantages of 5G, including extremely low latencies, will only be realized in their entirety upon implementation following publication of this release. Needless to say, development will continue unabated with constant testing and new designs. Without this release, however, sound functioning of 5G in practice and the fact that it can be relied upon for time-critical applications during production are not guaranteed.
If robots must be meticulously coordinated with one another for vehicle body manufacturing, for example, 100 percent communication must be guaranteed to ensure the avoidance of errors, which could even lead to downtimes in production. To accomplish these kinds of applications nowadays, it would be preferable to work with available technologies (e.g. Industrial WLAN) which are certain to meet the requirements.
Real-time capability provides new application possibilities
How is it ensured that enough bandwidth is always available for certain information in a private 5G company network?
One of the decisive factors as to why 5G can become the first mobile communication standard suitable for industrial use is the possibility of network slicing. This feature allows users to provide their network infrastructure, or parts thereof, on demand in accordance with the respective application. This would most likely constitute an independent network within a network with special characteristics.
If an emergency-off signal is to be transmitted to a machine, for example, a fixed data rate and latency provided for this network ensures a complete transfer without interruption. Network slicing is key to guaranteeing the delay times of a few milliseconds required for deterministic applications in industrial production.
Will the costs inhibit the implementation of applications?
I can’t see that happening in the public sector. It should be easy for any provider to calculate what he can take on when serving a certain number of customers over his network. Even high investments in licenses and infrastructure will pay off in that case. Cost issues may be a decisive factor for acceptance in industry.
Every cent of investment must first be earned, and this applies in particular to mediumsized businesses. In addition to the costs for the setup and operation of a private network infrastructure, the amounts for the usage permit should also be noted. The participants in industry are machines and material handling systems, which do not pay a fee for using the network, in contrast to the public sector.
The ROI must therefore be achieved by means of the actual use cases. Detailed ROI calculations for weighing costs and gains can only be executed once the extent of the usage fees is known.