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Private 5G fuelling Industry 4.0 transformations

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By Viswanathan Ramaswamy – VP, 5G and Digital Solutions Incubation, Tata Communications

The world is advancing into a fourth industrial age and emerging technologies are powering it. The industrial revolution was set in motion about two hundred years ago but it was in the 1990s when the third industrial age, the digital revolution, was unleashed.

While the manufacturing sector has adopted new technologies, the reality is that they tend to be used as tools to upgrade existing processes only. Enterprises involved in industrial or physical work such as mining, manufacturing and logistics have broadly carried on as before.

However, this situation is changing rapidly. Developments in digital connectivity and artificial intelligence (AI) are poised to bring sweeping productivity and efficiency improvements across multiple industry sectors. And this will be achieved by making machines smarter.

But this new industrial era won’t come to fruition until fast and reliable connectivity capable of reaching the remotest locations is also commonplace.

The Challenge
In today’s digital world, organisations are struggling to deliver the connectivity, quality of service, control and scalability that’s required of them, especially when it comes to industrial IoT applications and systems.

For example, a multinational manufacturing company wants to upgrade its factories’ infrastructure from a largely cabled set-up to a wireless one, to give its production lines more operational flexibility. How can they go about this transition with existing solutions?

Let’s say they decide to use an existing solution like Wi-Fi. This will be challenging as Wi-Fi has inconsistent latency and bandwidth performance and cannot provide appropriate coverage over large areas, not to mention across different countries.

As such, these limitations impact the technology’s ability to deliver a quality of service necessary for real-time analysis, and make it difficult for organisations that seek better visibility and centralised control at each of their factory sites.

Transform with 5G

This is where 5G comes in: it has the capacity, coverage and high signal penetration to connect devices that need to move freely across difficult radio environments. It also has lower latency, which is essential in operations where real-time connectivity is required.

On top of this, 5G enables carriers to divide the network into discrete chunks, known as network slicing, and, importantly, offers something new to enterprises: the ability to run your own fast and secure wireless mini-networks. This can be achieved by either obtaining licensed spectrum from carriers or applying for your own allocation.

The ability to have your own wireless network is known as private 5G. However, while these networks may be private, they don’t have to live in a vacuum.

As enterprises deploy it, they’ll need to ensure 5G works alongside other connectivity options such as 4G and Wi-Fi. They will also need to manage the transition of their connected devices from a discrete private 5G slice to a public 5G network.
The capability of private 5G to integrate with public networks is important because many critical services, such as those in healthcare, require service continuity when moving from one network to another.

It can be a challenge to ensure connectivity and security are maintained during these exchanges. But with the right partner platform, this can be easily overcome.

Other benefits of private 5G include:
• Deployment efficiency and flexibility of device movement (especially compared to a cable set-up)
• Availability of required coverage and capacity with high quality and reliability
• Security, privacy and data isolation requirements are possible
• Opportunity to enable real-time services
• Time critical applications are enabled through the Time Synchronisation Network (TSN) features available on 5G networks, which support the integration of legacy Ethernet TSN networks

Using a Network Management Platform
Having a standard private 5G network can be adequate for a single organisation. But for multinational enterprises like in our earlier example, what happens if the COO wants to automate and harmonise the company’s many factories to help gain visibility and control around the performance of each factory?

How can multiple factories, located in multiple countries be managed in the most efficient way possible?

Given what we’ve discussed above, it’s easy to think the answer is to install private 5G networks at each site. But doing this will only result in multiple 5G islands, no centralised control or visibility of operations within each factory.

However, the COO can partner with an expert network management platform that has umbrella orchestration and automation overlay to the 5G Edge and data centre components. This partnership will allow the enterprise to manage all legacy technologies as well as private 5G at each location efficiently.

This approach will ensure centralised access to each of the factory installations, while enabling each factory to operate autonomously. It will also allow for full visibility over the connectivity, devices and edge applications, as well as control across all the manufacturing sites, while letting each site manager run their own production lines.

Digital transformation is moving from the world of bytes to the world of things. High-bandwidth connectivity means that smart devices can communicate more, both as part of the production process and with other devices. This evolution is having a transformative impact across multiple industries, from extractive industries, through to manufacturing, logistics and beyond.

Private 5G is an enabler of this transformation and the ability to implement multi-site private 5G, along with edge compute and private to public connectivity handover are all part of the new industrial revolution.

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