Modules, Platforms

FAQ: 5G and the Factory

January 15, 2021

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Factories are already experiencing 5G’s faster speeds and low latency and are implementing 5G-leveraging solutions, such as augmented and virtual reality, automation, and wearables, on the manufacturing floor. The coronavirus pandemic has brought new challenges to manufacturing, like remaining agile and efficient with limited personnel. 5G can help factories pivot to a more secure and remote manufacturing approach and drive new business opportunities in greater numbers.

During our IoT Solutions World Congress webinar, “5G in the Factory: How 5G IoT at the Edge Can Elevate Your Manufacturing Business Strategy,” we received many excellent questions. Here are answers from Telit’s Marco Contento to the top questions we received.

1. In factories, generally, all equipment is connected to SCADA through a wired/Ethernet connection. Where does 5G play a role?

5G Release (Rel) 16 aims to support LAN-type services over 5G radio links, focusing on Time-Sensitive Networking (TSN).

2. What’s the role of mobile network operators (MNOs) or mobile virtual network operators (MVNOs) in 5G smart factory initiatives? How can they monetize their services and solutions?

The role of MNOs and MVNOs in smart factories can vary, depending on the architecture they offer and the position they take. It will be an OPEX-based approach for factories whenever they get service from an MNO or MVNO. On the other hand, the MNO or MVNO will have the opportunity to deliver a service and be paid for it since managing the wireless infrastructure requires knowledge that enterprises don’t have in-house or don’t want to build.

3. Any thoughts and plan to make the TCO of a 5G private network much lower (acceptable to a manufacturing customer)?

5G is a new technology. It’s complicated and, in this phase, expensive. From the device perspective, we all use wireless technology from the mobile phone market, which isn’t optimized in specs or cost for manufacturing. We will need a bit more time to see more affordable and suitable components and devices for the manufacturing industry. From an infrastructure perspective, private network solutions are expected to become more available from traditional large system integrators and several disruptors and innovators. Telit is working with all of them to enable the full solution, with device-side hardware, device management and data orchestration crucial to private 5G solution architecture.

4. For a smart factory private network, what are the challenges you have seen when connecting brown-field equipment?

The most common challenge is usually interoperability with infrastructure implementation.

5. Any practical (smart factory) private network use case based on the combination of mid-band and high-band 5G radio access network (RAN)?

It depends on the spectrum allocated in the country considered. For instance, in Germany, they have allocated 100 MHz spectrum in 3.5 GHz/n78 band, so it’s single band. On the other hand, Japan will deploy local 5G in NSA (non-standalone), using LTE as the anchor on B41 plus mmWave n257.

6. What’s the difference between mmWave and Sub-6 GHz?

Sub-6 spectrum (also known as FR1 spectrum in 3GPP language) are all the bands below 6 GHz. Therefore, they include legacy 3G/LTE bands and additional new bands still below 6 GHz.

mmWave consists of new bands above 24 GHz allocated for 5G.

7. Is it more beneficial for a factory to use Wi-Fi 6 or 5G? What’s the minimum number of devices and connected equipment for 5G instead of investing in Wi-Fi?

It depends on the requirements. If low latency is required, Wi-Fi 6 isn’t suitable. Also, 5G is usually deployed in licensed bands, so there’s better quality of service (QoS). Contrary to 5G, Wi-Fi works in unlicensed bands, and the QoS is “best effort.”

8. In the future, is 5G intended to replace or substitute existing wired real-time communication infrastructures in manufacturing, such as CAN bus, Modbus, etc., by integrating directly with PLC, sensors and actuators?

Yes. The ambition is to use 5G to replace wired real-time communications. 3GPP Rel 16 aims to do that.

9. How do you see the possibility of adding more intelligence at the edge? Do you think there will be a specific ML application layer at the module level? If so, do you believe TinyML could be the right way to go?

One option is to implement ML on a host board attached to the module or run ML on the module itself if there will be enough computational power. It’s difficult to judge whether TinyML can fit since it depends on the requirements and microcontroller available on the module, which can vary.

10. Any white paper or book you can recommend for understanding 5G use cases for industrial IoT?

To understand 5G use cases for industrial IoT, you can start with this free publication.

11. For wirelessly connecting the machine PLCs and controllers, it should have a 5G communication interface. How does your solution take care of it?

There’ll be either specific converters exposing Ethernet or, when 5G becomes more affordable, the 5G modem will be integrated into the PLC when and if required.