A research company with headquarters in Cambridge, United Kingdom, that supplies market and technology reports to assisting companies in making strategic business decisions has issued a statement in which it expresses what it believes to be the benefits, challenges and opportunities that come with the use of 5G small cells for connected industries.
A digitalized, connected world was unimaginable as recently as a couple of years ago, according to IDTechEx. However, thanks to the development of 5G, the company said, this vision is in sight.
“5G is a collection of optimized and updated mobile communication technologies and new characteristics coming from the change of frequency: 4G (<3 GHz) to 5G sub-6 (3.5 – 7 GHz) and millimeter-wave (mmWave, >24 GHz),” the statement reads. “Together with new technological advancements such as network slicing and edge computing, 5G provides much larger bandwidth, lower latency, higher reliability and more connections in comparison to the previous cellular generations.”
“In the first phase of 5G development, the focus is still on the business-to-consumer (B2C) market,” IDTechEx said. It said it has seen telecom operators worldwide actively installing 5G macro base stations to provide networks with high capacity for consumers using mobile devices over the past two years. The research company said this trend will continue, and it said what it called the blue ocean of the 5G market lies in the business-to-business (B2B) segment.
“With high data throughput and ultralow latency, 5G can tap into many high-value areas, including 3D robotic control and virtual reality monitoring, areas that previous technologies were not able to address,” the statement reads. IDTechEx said it expects to see many industries, such as manufacturing and logistics, to be redefined and reshaped by 5G.
5G small cells will play an essential role in 5G networks for connected industries, according to the research company. IDTechEx said that small cells, with the characteristics of easier deployment and cheaper costs compared to macro base stations, have been used for enterprise purposes back in the 3G era. It said that since 2016, more than 1 million small cells have been shipped for enterprise purposes each year. Nevertheless, according to IDTechEx, compared with how many connections are achieved via wired connections, cellular wireless networks still have huge room to grow.
“Take Industry 4.0 as an example,” the statement reads. “Most connections are achieved via Ethernet (46 percent); wireless networks in industry 4.0 internet-of-things (IoT) nowadays only take up 6 percent. One of the bottlenecks is that flexible manufacturing systems are still not prevalent. Other challenges include the lack of feature support in device components and performance validation. Regardless, 5G development is driving demand toward wireless networks. The research company forecasts that there will be around 45 million 5G small cells deployed by the end of 2031.”
IDTechEx said that it has concluded there are three primary reasons why 5G networks enable connected industries and automation.
First, it said, with an efficient and flexible working environment, 5G connectivity can replace traditional wired connectivity. It said this replacement would enhance communication among machines and between humans and machines. For example, IDTechEx said, with 5G, workers freed from fixed terminals could communicate with machines using virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) using tablets at any 5G covered location. Additionally, it said, wireless connectivity brings much greater flexibility to production lines.
Second, IDTechEx said, is a boost in product efficiency. “With 5G, the massive amount of data generated from different types of sensors can be collected and analyzed on-site instantly,” the company statement reads. “This in turn allows machines to optimize themselves based on the feedback data they receive. Furthermore, the analyzed data can also be used to predict the need for future maintenance or any potential problem that may arise.”
The third reason IDTechEx identified as a reason why 5G networks enable connected industries and automation involves industrial-grade performance. It said that 5G has extremely low latency, high bandwidth, fast data speeds and high reliability such that 5G connectivity is almost as reliable as wired connectivity. According to IDTechEx, the new technologies that 5G brings, such as network slicing, AI, real-time machine learning, and edge computing, enable the transformation of the manufacturing industry.
To establish networks in enterprise premises, IDTechEx said, there are three types of networks from which to choose: public, private and hybrid.
“Public networks involve using networks provided from commercial base stations, whereas private networks provide a dedicated spectrum, can be tailored for different applications, and secure data on the premises,” the statement reads. “Each type has its advantages and disadvantages.”
For example, IDTechEx said, directly using public networks is possibly the cheapest option; however, data security and liability problems associated with maintenance might be of concern. It said that deploying private networks would be the most expensive option, but a private network allows a company full network control. For most of the companies involved in manufacturing, especially for multinational corporations such as Bosch and Siemens, the private network is the most appealing option, given the data security concerns, according to IDTechEx.
The research company also said that it has seen that telecommunication regulatory bodies in many countries such as the United States, Germany, China and Japan have been releasing dedicated spectrum for private network developments. IDTechEx also pointed out that private networks are not unique to 5G. It said that there already are private networks based on 4G. Nevertheless, IDTechEx said, the characteristics of 5G such as high data throughput and low latency, together with technologies such as edge computing, are reasons why 5G private networks are so attractive for the industry.
During the past two years, IDTechEx said, the number of 5G private network deployments around the world has increased. It said that Bosch has announced it would roll out 5G private networks in all of its manufacturing factories. Furthermore, IDTechEx said, automotive manufacturers such as Ford and Toyota have both had 5G private networks deployed in some of their factories in 2020. It said that China has been actively deploying 5G private networks for mining sites. According to IDTechEx, it is guaranteed that more and more enterprises will embrace 5G networks.
“The growth of 5G small cells will go hand in hand with 5G private networks for industries,” the statement reads. “5G small cells are essential for 5G private network deployment. IDTechEx expects that small cell shipment numbers will be significantly higher compared to where it is now by the end of 2031.”
IDTechEx has made available a report, “5G Small Cells 2021-2031: Technologies, Markets, Forecasts,” which contains an analysis of the supply chain across 5G small cells, including an assessment of technology innovations and market dynamics. The report provides case studies on vertical applications enabled by 5G small cells. It presents an analysis of primary data gathered through interviews.
Don Bishop is executive editor and associate publisher of AGL Magazine.