The manufacturing industry is exploring 5G technology at an accelerated pace, primarily to enable AI-driven use cases such as closed-loop manufacturing, adaptive manufacturing, predictive analytics for maintenance, and Extended Reality (XR)-based worker training and safety. says Jagadeesh Dantuluri, general manager for private and dedicated networks at Keysight Technologies. “It’s not a static assembly line that performs the same action over and over again, but one that can change as needed,” he says. “Private networks essentially enable new business models in manufacturing.”
However, the benefits of private 5G networks go beyond manufacturing. Because the technology offers more reliable connectivity, faster data rates and lower latency, as well as greater scalability, security and network control than previous communication technologies, 5G private networks will drive innovation in many industrial and corporate sectors.
The advantages of private 5G networks
A private cellular network is based on standards defined by the 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP) (like LTE or 5G), but offers dedicated local coverage. This is important for remote facilities that lack public networks or where indoor coverage is not robust. A private network also only uses the available capacity; there is no competition from other network users, as in a public network. Private operators can also implement their own security policies to authorize users, prioritize traffic and most importantly, ensure sensitive data does not leave premises without authorization.
The dedicated nature of 5G private networks coupled with a customized service, intrinsic control and URLLC capabilities offers more reliable industrial wireless communications for a variety of use cases, says Dantuluri: “Applications include real-time closed-loop wireless control and Process automation as well as AI-based production and AR/VR-based design for on-site and remote workers,” he explains. “Furthermore, the low-cost connectivity enables sensors to be easily deployed in a greater variety of scenarios, allowing organizations to create innovative applications and collect real-time data.”
The industrial sector is driving a massive digital transformation and the integration of information technology (IT) systems with operational technology (OT) systems will accelerate this process. Digital technologies will also enable many new use cases, such as automated manufacturing.
A private 5G network allows a facility to sync tracking data and integrate it into its workflow, allowing production lines to be configured in real time, says Dantuluri. “Because the assembly lines and factory infrastructure such as robotic arms, autonomous mobile robots (AMRs), autonomous guided vehicles (AGVs) and sensors are wirelessly connected, configuring or moving assembly elements as needed is much easier. This use case requires highly reliable, low-latency wireless connectivity and coverage, as well as potentially high data rates in both uplink and downlink, and potentially future Time Sensitive Networks (TSN) support. This use case application can only be achieved with private 5G networks.”
Outside of the industrial sector, private 5G networks are enabling mobile augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) applications, allowing, for example, engineers to view superimposed blueprints, soldiers to have heads-up displays, and companies to hold virtual meetings in the Field service or working remotely. “When a machine needs repairs and a technician or factory worker is wearing AR glasses, technical information can be overlaid on the real device to see what’s wrong,” says Dantuluri. “And the data center can send step-by-step instructions on how to carry out the repairs.”
As enterprises realize the benefits of ubiquitous, low latency, high bandwidth and secure connectivity, applications of 5G private networks will increase. Analysts expect investments in private 5G networks to add up to tens of billions of dollars by the end of 2024. A separate analysis by the research arm of investment firm JP Morgan predicts that global business opportunities for 5G will exceed $700 billion by 2030.