Private 5G takes Industry 4.0 to the next level

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Manufacturing, Transportation & Logistics, Energy & Mining are some of the industries Private 5G can transform

At the recently concluded Mobile World Congress 2021 in Los Angeles, IBM and Boston Dynamics showcased Spot, a dog-like robot that can help companies address worker safety, optimize field operations, and boost maintenance productivity in industrial environments. With the combination of AI, Edge and 5G technology, Spot uses sensor devices and analytics on its back to inspect machinery and detect problems across industrial sites in difficult-to-reach areas and those dangerous for humans. 

With 5G enabling such compelling industry use cases and favorable regulatory changes on spectrum availability for enterprises, the demand for private 5G networks is growing. TBR estimates private 5G networks market will reach $7.5 billion in 2025 up from $200 million in 2020.

What is Private 5G?

A private 5G network is a wireless local area network that uses 5G-enabled technologies to create a network with dedicated bandwidth and infrastructure that meets a company’s specific connectivity needs.

Unlike a public network, a private 5G network can be configured to a company’s specific needs, and configurations can vary by site, depending on the type of work undertaken in each site.

To build a private 5G network, companies need to:

  1. Obtain spectrum right-to-use
  2. Obtain 5G equipment (i.e., base stations, mini-towers, small cells) from network equipment providers and
  3. Connect equipment to edge devices (smartphones, sensors, routers, etc.)

Why Private 5G?

Private networks are not new. The key drivers behind the “why” of private networks have always been:

  1. Insufficient coverage of public networks (e.g., inside factory/mines, remote locations, etc.)
  2. High cost of deploying multiple technologies at a location (e.g., public wireless, LAN, WAN, etc.)
  3. Lack of local/on-premises data processing & storage
  4. Security concerns with data and lack of control over traffic flow/prioritization

The concept of private mobile networks began with the use of WiFi & 4G LTE technology. The primary advantages of WiFi are low cost and good device availability. However, WiFi is not suitable for mobility/WAN use-cases, it has relatively low reliability (signals get interrupted more frequently) and latency is too high and unpredictable to support mission‐critical workloads.

4G LTE supports mobility and is reliable but is not suitable for workloads that require low latency. Also, it can only support a maximum of 100,000 devices per square kilometer.

The characteristics and features of 5G are far superior to those of 4G LTE and Wi‐Fi. 5G brings sub-millisecond latency when managed privately with 99.9999% reliability & can connect up to a million, allowing companies to connect every sensor and device in a factory.

While 4G LTE and Wi‐Fi will have a place in the private network domain, most enterprises will ultimately need 5G. This shift to private 5G networks will be primarily driven by use case and location requirements. Mission‐critical and latency‐sensitive use cases are the best candidates for private 5G.

Key Use Cases

Combining private 5G with AI-enabled Edge computing creates tremendous opportunities for Industry 4.0. It brings analytics, computation, and data storage closer to where data is generated, enabling better data control, faster insights and actions, continuous operations and reduced costs.

As per the OMDIA 1H21 tracker, the largest opportunities for private 5G will be in Manufacturing (32%), Transportation & Logistics (14%) and Energy & Mining (11%) sectors.

Tier 1 manufacturers view private 5G as a must‐adopt technology to boost revenue and reduce costs. A broad range of use cases such as collaborative mobile robots, self-driving machines, swarm intelligence, automatic guided vehicles (AGVs), augmented reality (AR) predictive maintenance, AR/VR headsets, digital twins, etc. can be implemented in smart factory environments which are limited in their potential today due to reliability (WiFi) and latency (LTE) issues.

Transportation & Logistics sector is another segment which holds great potential for private 5G networks, as locales such as warehouses, distribution centres and ports have a constant inflow and outflow of goods which must be tracked and have a very diverse range of connected devices ranging from packages, shipping containers, connected cameras and heavy machinery, among others.

Energy and Mining companies have facilities located outside the range of commercial networks and will leverage private 5G for accurate (low latency) remote machine control, safety enhancements and training.

Succeeding with Private 5G

Communication Service Providers (CSP), System Integrators (SI), Network Equipment Providers (NEP) and Cloud Providers are all jostling to be key partners of enterprises seeking private 5G network solutions.

CSPs are seemingly well-positioned and can leverage their networking expertise but 5G connectivity is just one of the requirements of enterprises. Companies are looking to deploy critical business applications on these private networks, and typically, they want end-to-end, turnkey industry-specific solutions that can be deployed quickly.

SIs are in the sweet spot for driving private 5G engagements as they are a) already involved in digital transformation‐related conversations with enterprises, b) experienced in implementing cloud-native, automation and AI technologies and c) can effectively partner with CSPs & NEPs to create and deliver industry-specific solutions.

IBM brings together 5G, Edge, AI & Automation capabilities, industry expertise, domain/process experience and partnership ecosystem of NEPs & cloud providers to deliver private 5G solutions that meet the unique needs of enterprises. The value isn’t just connecting hardware and software and making it work, but rather making sure that 5G is used to maximize operations for the enterprise.

Private 5G networks are evolving fast but companies are still somewhat wary about the complexity and costs. The most effective strategy is to target small pilots that can be built quickly to demonstrate value/ROI to enterprises and then scale up to realize the benefits. Do reach out to your IBM representative to get started now!


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