14 October 2019

5G is much more than just ultrafast Internet – about new requirements for the industry of the future

Dr. Christoph Dietzel, Global Head of Products & Research at DE-CIX, sheds light on interesting 5G use-cases from business and industry, and examines to what extent 5G will revolutionize industry. The article was first published by dotmagazine.

Broad public awareness of the new mobile standard 5G will initially center on the much improved and faster transfer rates on smartphones. This is also where we know its predecessors from. But this is only one aspect of the technological revolution. 

For end-consumers, the use of 5G is dependent on a range of requirements: Customers need a new mobile device, an appropriate provider, and – above all – need to live in a region where the coverage is guaranteed. Over and above this, users need to dig deeper into their pockets than previously. However, the actual challenge is availability and network coverage; those places that today still do not have a 4G network will in future also not have a 5G network. It is to be expected that mobile providers will initially concentrate their roll-out of the new standard in urban centers. Naturally, 5G offers end-consumers a range of advantages. For instance, high-resolution videos can be viewed on the go without judder in 4K or 8K. 5G can also handle considerably more mobile devices, which means that the overloading of the network – for example, in conjunction with large events – can be avoided. But if we look at the economic and industrial potential, 5G is much more than simply a new mobile standard. 

Behind the scenes, 5G incorporates a range of technical innovations. New modulation schemes and a new air interface allow considerably higher data transfer rates and increase the energy efficiency. The new standard also uses a considerably broader frequency band and copes with many more devices per mobile cell than its predecessor – this is taken care of by Massive MIMO, which uses substantially more antenna elements. With 5G, direct communication between devices is possible without the provider’s backbone, which is, for example, important for the communication between autonomous cars. As a result of these advantages, a range of use-cases are emerging for different economic branches: 

Industry 4.0

Industry 4.0 and connected manufacturing plants are likely to be generally the best-known use-cases for 5G in business. Here, the focus is on areas like the simulation and virtualization of production processes, predictive maintenance, and error analysis. The massive use of sensors required for this makes data transfer via cable between machines impractical. If the data is processed before being sent, it also reduces the requirements for storage. A further field of application is mobile (transport) robots, which need to get around obstacles and avoid other robots and people.  

Within an Industry 4.0 factory, the communication network needs to support a variety of applications. Each of these has its own individual requirements when it comes to latency, throughput, reliability, etc. Only in a heterogeneous communications environment will it be possible to fulfill all requirements at a reasonable price. Within the factory, both the WiFi-based IIoT (Industrial Internet of Things) and the cellular mobile network will remain, side by side. Mobile networks and WiFi are to carry the main load in wireless communication. On the grounds of security, reliability, and performance, companies are likely to use their own base stations. The number of base stations can vary according to the size of the factory and the performance requirements. In an extreme case, the cell radius can be less than a meter, which necessitates the use of hundreds of bases. The costs of the base stations are reduced through the Cloud RAN concept. With Cloud RAN, the signal processing is outsourced to the mobile edge cloud (MEC). As a result, the computing occurs closer to the user, which prevents network overload, reduces latency, and therefore ultimately contributes to the better performance of applications. These base stations, also known as remote radio heads, are more like antennas. The unprocessed or partially processed baseband signal generates a significant amount of data traffic between the remote radio heads and the MEC. Taking into consideration the high level of requirements for the communications connection, several companies are currently applying for their own mobile licenses in a dedicated frequency band. Having a separate frequency reduces interference with other communications devices and thus allows for an increased number of wireless devices. Furthermore, in Germany, for example, the use of these frequencies is regulated and subject to restrictions, so that companies can use “their” frequency exclusively.

Use Case Agriculture 4.0

Agriculture 4.0 uses information and communication technologies to improve the yields of crops. For example, data about weather and soil conditions can be collected by special sensors and then analyzed by self-learning algorithms to determine the right quantities of water, pesticide, and fertilizer for every single plant.  

Sensors in the soil can deliver information about parameters like current moisture levels. To do this, the individual sensors are connected to a base station via LPWA technologies. A further area of application for 5G technologies is the automated control of agricultural machines. In this way, for example, an autonomous agricultural vehicle can follow a tractor. The vehicles can be synchronized with regards to speed and position. On the basis of measurements, predictive maintenance promises to determine as precisely as possible when a machine component will malfunction. The component in question can then be replaced individually as needed, rather than simply on suspicion. In comparison to preventative maintenance, this approach promises to reduce machine downtimes, and in turn, maintenance costs. 

For these applications, the database and software need to be kept in the vicinity of the farming machinery involved. This could be achieved with a nearby mobile edge cloud, for example in a mobile base station or together with a small base station directly on the machine. Agriculture 4.0 applications can be realized through individual operations or regions being equipped with an infrastructure for data collection, calculations, and storage. However, it is also conceivable that agricultural corporations will develop complete integrated solutions, from which farmers can purchase services...

The full article can be read here.