By Murali L, Chief Technology Officer – Next Gen Communication at L&T Technology Services
Indian enterprises today are debating whether or not to modernize their IT/OT networks through private cellular networks. Ever since the Department of Telecom (DOT) announced ‘Captive Non-Public Networks,’ to be rolled out with enterprises obtaining their own spectrum at a nominal price directly from DOT or leased from a spectrum-holding Telecom Service Provider, industry interest has continued to peak.
The advantages of a captive Private 5G network for industrial use go beyond just extending in-campus coverage. It offers lowered latency, assured bandwidth and reliability, support for mobility, and access to a rapidly maturing ecosystem of suppliers and industry-specific use cases. Private 5G compares favourably against campus Wi-Fi networks on all these above counts, with downsides around higher initial investments and the cost from a spectrum-related annual opex.
The industry is witnessing a lot of interest from the manufacturing sector in India. Enterprises with sprawling factory complexes, with the attendant environmental conditions and coverage challenges, and the need to incorporate newer and more robust use cases, are focusing on the transition to Private 5G in a big way.
How does a typical Enterprise approach the setup and operations of a Private 5G set up?
Here are a set of steps that makes up the journey:
- Identify the important use cases and the ROI thereof
- Design the OT and IT network that will deliver those use cases; here, dimensioning the network correctly to deliver the required industry KPIs is absolutely critical. One has to tread the balance between over-engineering the system versus the implementation cost and complexity, involving the engagement of an experienced consultant and/or a System Integrator who can take care of all the techno-commercial aspects that will lead to the desired outcomes
- Seal the agreement with the spectrum holder for the leasing of the spectrum and procuring the radio equipment. The mobile core and rest of the networking BOQ materials could be supplied through the system integrators.
- Run a POC trial to observe the behaviour of the various OT/IT elements and sorting their connectivity issues. This would also cover the initial set of data gathering to measure and tweak the KPIs
- Expand the POC network into a full-blown network, testing and integrating it with all the CPEs and plant and machinery as well as with the IT network as needed
- Hand over to maintenance for network monitoring and FPM.
Now let us look at how 5G is being deployed in the manufacturing, agriculture, and healthcare sectors in India.
How Private 5G Benefits Manufacturing
A typical industry setup for how the data flows for manufacturing set up would look like the flowchart below:
Industrial sensors send information to PLCs and IOT gateways to a data collection and analytics engine, which generates actionable insights which could go into a closed loop system that corrects errors automatically or through human intervention. Some more specific use cases in manufacturing that leverages such a setup include video analytics for quality inspection and worker safety, tracing and tracking, and control of Autonomous Guided Vehicles.
The figure below shows the benefits delivered in an industrial campus where a Private Cellular Network was setup to ensure coverage and realize use cases like visual quality inspection and AR/VR on the go:
How Agriculture Can Benefit from 5G
In general, the agriculture sector worldwide has yet to fully embrace technology. This lack of adoption, in turn, leads to decreased crop productivity, increases production costs, and poses challenges in bringing the produce to the market in a timely and profitable manner.
Traditional methods of farming present low yields and higher operating expenditure in terms of power and water usage. A 5G enabled smart agriculture solution would have to be sophisticated enough to harness the benefits of 5G for improving yield and reducing production costs, while at the same time being simple enough to be widely adopted and installable by an untrained user.
How 5G is Shaping the Future of Healthcare
The healthcare industry has also gone through a paradigm shift with the emergence of Internet of Medical Things (IoMT), convergence of medical devices, telemedicine, smart hospitals and interactive customer experience. Post pandemic, it is evident that the sector needs to undergo a massive transformation to ensure a highly reliable, connected, and transparent ecosystem for the benefit of patients and practitioners alike.
While there are various technology enablers that contribute to the future of healthcare, we believe that connectivity is the heartbeat of this transformation. Imagine how much time it will save if the doctor could get the large sized MRI reports in his palm even before the patient arrived. Imagine a veteran surgeon performing robotic surgery of a patient in a rural area when they are 1000s of miles apart. Or imagine how it can be a lifesaving event when the doctor gets an alarm from a remote wearable monitor if any of the critical vitals of a patient turns abnormal.
However, all this can be converted into reality only if it is powered with a reliable and robust connectivity infrastructure. 5G plays the role of a game changer to revolutionize the healthcare industry with its high throughput, ultra-low latency, and massive device support capabilities.
On the right, you can see a list of major areas where 5G adoption can ushers in a healthcare revolution. A relevant example is the Connected Ambulance powered by 5G wherein a patient inside the ambulance can be continuously monitored by doctors sitting at the hospital during the ‘golden hour’ when the right medical care is critical. The real time vitals of the patient are shared with the hospital along with a live 8k HD video feed to ensure that right and timely treatment can be provided inside the ambulance as well as immediately after reaching the hospital.
5G is more than a ‘new improved 4G.’ Unlike the previous generations of cellular technology, it directly impacts industries and is a clear B2B as well as B2B2C enabler. It assumes mission-critical nature when it comes to manufacturing use cases, a vital tool influencing economies of nations through its agriculture enablement, and can be a lifesaver in the healthcare sector.
The real benefits of 5G are just beginning to unfold, and we can look forward to some truly revolutionary technology leaps in across industries and verticals.