New 5G networks will transform many industry domains in the next several years. From factory floors to healthcare, financial services, and even entertainment, industries will enter an entirely new phase of connectivity thanks to 5G.
In addition to significantly higher speeds and throughput, 5G Networks can take advantage of network virtualization to carve out “network slices” for IIoT’s unique needs. While this will be a game-changer for many industries, manufacturing can significantly benefit from higher bandwidth, lower latency and more reliable wireless networks!
5G: Transforming the Factory Floor
Currently, most factories are connected by wired connections with traditional Fieldbus or Industrial Ethernet, serving as a backbone for connecting field-level equipment to control systems and PLCs. New standards such as OPC-UA allow connecting the factory to the enterprise by providing a structured and secure way for data access and control.
The second phase of the 5G specification, 3GPP Release 16, targets factory automation with ultra-reliable, low latency communication (uRLLC), enhanced massive type communication (eMTC), and enhanced mobile broadband (eMBB). The most notable enhancements are in areas of latency and reliability, addressed towards realizing the mission-critical use-cases in an industrial environment.
5G Networks could provide factory floors critical capabilities in terms of low latency, high reliability and supporting a significantly higher number of devices. Additionally, 5G enabled devices could “offload” some of their processing to the network allowing for less complex and cheaper devices.
Impact of 5G “Network Edge” on IIoT
The Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) requires a multitude of technologies complementing each other to deliver the improvements in automation, efficiency, and agility. It requires dashboards, device communication & management capabilities for managing diverse device types, real-time streaming for actionable intelligence, machine learning capabilities for identifying patterns and predicting behavior, and AR for augmenting manual guidance and training.
5G with its low latency, high security, and bespoke networks, enables factories to take full advantage of sensors and the IoT for asset monitoring and automation, along with artificial intelligence and machine learning capabilities. Much of this will happen on-premises, but also increasingly in the cloud. IIoT platforms that can integrate with cloud hyper-scalers–like Amazon AWS and Microsoft Azure–will be key enablers for a 5G-enabled IIoT ecosystem.
To support latency-sensitive applications at the 5G Network Edge, Amazon and Verizon jointly announced the introduction of AWS “Wavelength Zones.” This would short-circuit the trip from the device to the AWS Cloud by embedding a portion of the AWS infrastructure within Verizon’s data center. Microsoft is also leveraging its past work with AT&T and has recently launched Azure Edge Zones. Additionally, Microsoft’s recent acquisition of Affirmed Networks aims to bring cloud-based 5G networks to the market.
While the 5G specifications mature, the “network edge” could serve as a hot spot for innovation between the hyper-scalers, carriers, and IIoT platform providers to deliver latency-sensitive IIoT applications for industrial automation.