| Nov 18, 2021

An Industry 4.0 Primer: Enterprise Connectivity and Private 5G Networks

Private 5G networks represent the future of industrial enterprises. Here's a brief primer on how more advanced connectivity is changing the very nature of industrial workflows.

It took us about 100 years to connect the first 100,000 places. This was the advent of the fixed phone, and one of our first forays into “instant” communication. Once cellular service emerged in the 1980s, it took about a decade to connect the first 20 million people wirelessly, and another 10 years to connect the first billion people through 2G networks. Connectivity grew steadily with 3G networks until the launch of the iPhone in 2007, when the demand began to outpace the network’s capacity to keep up. 4G was designed to address this exponential growth in mobile traffic over smartphones, and the last 10 years have enabled us to connect nearly everyone in the world: seven billion people. What should we expect in the decade to come? Industry 4.0 enabled by 5G is here to stay.

Why Do We Need 5G?

During the boom of the wireless industry, when people were purchasing their first smartphones by the millions, 4G connectivity was created out of necessity. The massive amounts of information these phones were transmitting overloaded the system — 3G was not enough. The 4G network has been able to handle the ubiquitous use of smartphones, but it’s not enough to handle the future.

The need for network expansion comes from IoT, or the Internet of Things. IoT refers to networks of devices such as sensors, robots, and machines that need to communicate with one another to do their jobs properly. Looking into the future, billions and billions of these tiny devices will need to stay connected.

As consumers, we typically think of a wireless upgrade as an improvement to bandwidth and processing speed. But when we’re talking about IoT, the focus is not necessarily on the continual need for bandwidth. A safety sensor on a large piece of manufacturing equipment does not require a lot of constant bandwidth. It’s sort of dormant and waiting for action. But when a human being walks in front of that sensor, it engages its literal life-or-death task of bringing the equipment to a halt. You’re not asking a lot from it, but when it’s needed, you need it to be able to act fast. This quality refers to the latency of the network – how quickly it can respond to a command. This is where the power of a 5G network comes into play.

What Is a Private 5G Network?

As I mentioned above, we’ve discovered that 4G is enough to handle consumer usage of smartphones. A 5G network doesn’t need to have nationwide coverage. Where it is advantageous is in specific applications, like manufacturing plants, airports, and hospitals. Places where a large number of devices need to exchange information on a regular basis with low latency, or lag time. These enterprises can now install a private 5G network to cover a specific geographical area, enabling their smart technology to do its job on a more advanced level.

The supply chain crisis that the U.S. is experiencing is not expected to resolve itself anytime soon, and it’s a conundrum with many different potential solutions. One of these is bringing manufacturing back onshore. The current labor shortage is not going to lend itself to that reality; however, technology can. Implementing these networks in our manufacturing plants will set the stage for more advanced robotics, making production quicker, more efficient, and more reliable.

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How Does This Impact the Future?

Though technological advances have taken over a large number of industries, there are still many industries, such as construction, that are operating in largely the same way they have been for decades. Advancements in robotics and “smart” devices are still making their way across different verticals. These are exciting times — we can continue to move toward being the best we can be, both as companies and as individuals.

Given sustainability’s emergence as a top priority transcending industries, enabling a more robust system of automated robots also helps us go green. As Ford recently revealed their plans to bring more manufacturing back to the U.S. while aiming to produce more all-electric vehicles, they also revealed a flexible manufacturing floor. Each chassis was shown on its own automated guided vehicle, rather than on a traditional assembly line. When issues with manufacturing occur, the vehicle can excuse itself from assembly to undergo assessment. Amazing, isn’t it? This world will require a private network as advanced as its other technologies, and 5G is ushering it in.

 

By Johan Bjorklund
Executive Author

CEO, Betacom

Johan is a senior executive leader combining rich telecommunications industry experience with a strategic and operational focus on building and growing the business. view profile

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