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5G’s foray into the industrial world starts with the development of standards. 5G private networks also require government involvement for spectrum and civilian and military applications, and from industry for trials, testbeds, and ecosystem solutions.
Many industry organizations participate in the development of standards for 5G private networks. The most notable ones are the 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP) and the 5G Alliance for Connected Industries and Automation (5G-ACIA).
The first 5G standard release (3GPP Release 15) mainly focused on consumer services. The most recent release (Release 16) and the upcoming ones (Figure 1) offer specific capabilities for the industrial space.
Release 16 introduces significant enhancements to achieve low latency, including the following:
• uplink pre-emption indication, where the gNodeB (gNB) can tell enhanced mobile broadband (eMBB) user equipment (UE) to stop previously scheduled uplink transmission and clear the channel for higher-priority, low-latency traffic from other UEs
• improvements to physical uplink shared channel (PUSCH) repetitions
• improvements for uplink grant-free transmission to allow UEs to send data sooner
• uplink control information (UCI) changes to introduce the concept of traffic priority
Release 17 increases the integration of 5G with time-sensitive networks (TSN). This release will also introduce features that improve 5G positioning and reduce latency, which are critical capabilities for factory automation and remote control applications.
Release 18 will be the first release to officially fall under the 3GPP “5G Advanced” umbrella. This release will feature significant enhancements for network intelligence, including the implementation of machine learning (ML) techniques at different levels in the network. Artificial intelligence (AI) enhancements will be essential for more demanding industrial use cases.
Figure 1. 3GPP standards timeline
5G-ACIA’s Role in Defining Industry 4.0 Use Cases
5G-ACIA played a significant role in developing 5G performance targets by defining use cases in industrial applications. Although the use of 5G private networks is not specific to any industry, the manufacturing sector has the most to gain in the short term from adopting these networks.
Tomorrow’s smart factories need to implement many applications for their digital transformation. They include big data analytics to make business decisions in real time and advanced predictive maintenance, monitoring, and tracking of time-sensitive assets in the factory and while in transit. Other applications include the following:
• wireless, real-time, closed-loop control and process automation
• AI-based production control
• augmented and virtual reality (AR / VR)-based design and production
• wireless and collaborative robots, including automated guided vehicles (AGV) and autonomous mobile robots (AMR)
• numerous wireless sensors
• VR-based support and training for remote teams
These use cases require many wireless connections on the factory floor, ultra-reliable and stable coverage and connectivity, ultra-low latency, and excellent data rates on both the downlink and the uplink. Applications that require high uplink data speeds and ultra-low latency are rare in the wireless consumer market, but these requirements are paramount in Industry 4.0 applications. 5G wireless networks meet these requirements (Table 1).
Table 1. Industry 4.0 use cases, requirements, and key performance indicators
Deploying 5G in a factory environment can take different forms. A typical network consists of the following elements:
• UE, including connected sensors, cameras, and controllers
• base stations with which the UE establishes a wireless link
• core network for routing information between mobile clients and edge network elements, billing and authentication services, and tracking the location of mobile clients to maintain links with the devices
In addition, many 5G private networks leverage multi-access edge computing (MEC)to provide real-time awareness to the 5G system while helping it achieve lower latency by moving computing resources closer to the user.
You can deploy a 5G private network using a dedicated and isolated standalone setup, or you can use a public wireless service provider’s infrastructure. Each option offers different levels of security and has specific service and network management needs.
Choosing a deployment model requires careful consideration of the use case, the availability of technical expertise, and your business strategy. You can decide to own and operate your core network on premises or in the cloud, or you can opt for a third party or mobile network operator to manage it for you. Research indicates that two-thirds of manufacturers prefer to fully own and operate their private networks because of security concerns and to keep production data in-house¹.
Figure 2 shows the four deployment options for 5G private networks. The model on the top left is the most isolated private network implementation. The radio, control plane, and data plane sit inside the factory premises and do not share resources with the public network. This option is the most secure way to implement a private network.
Figure 2. Deployment options for industrial 5G networks (Source: 5G-ACIA)
Private networks are the most talked about 5G use case these days. To expand your knowledge on 5G private networks, listen to All Things 5G podcast episodes “Supercharging Private Dedicated Networks” and “Time-Sensitive Networking Goes Wireless”.
For more information on the key 5G features enabling 5G private networks, read my previous blog “What Are the Key 5G Features Enabling 5G Private Networks for Industry 4.0?”