5G to Enhance Industrial IoT and Transform Industry Starting in 2020

By Wendy Harding

Industry Trends

While 4G wireless mobile technology revolutionized the consumer market, 5G is set to transform the industrial space.

2G networks were designed for voice, 3G for voice and data, and 4G for broadband experiences. Now, 5G is the fifth generation of wireless communications technology. It will enable new kinds of uses that require very low latency and high reliability such as industrial applications consisting of massive numbers of sensors and actuators. Engineers expect it to be able to handle about 1000 times more mobile data than today’s cellular systems.

Mobile Communication Becomes a Key Enabler for Industrial IoT

At its most fundamental level, Industrial IoT (IIoT) is about automation which is generally divided into:

  • Factory Automation: the automation of operations in the production of items such as electronics, cars, appliances, etc.

  • Process Control: automatically controlled processes based on continuous data gathering and analysis. These include processes in oil refineries, power plants, paper mills, etc.

Within these two categories there is a plethora of IIoT use cases, each with specific requirements in terms of data rates, latency, reliability, density of connections, coverage, etc. As the table below shows, some of these can be addressed with today’s technology, but 5G will help address the remaining use cases by providing technology solutions for sustaining extreme reliability and ultra-low latency.

Requirements and access technology for IIoT use cases

5G networks will use separate planes that are overlaid or beneath the network, often utilizing Wi-Fi, to ensure energy efficiency while delivering proximity or location-based services tied to sensing devices. It will also enable:

  • Network customization and integration

  • Virtualized service specific core networks

  • Multi-RAT (multiple radio access technology) integration

  • Capillary networks

Network operators that provide data services for M2M applications differ from those that predominately offer voice services for mobile phone users. For bi-directional communications of electronic devices, an appropriate IP addressing scheme is required. This has led to specialized M2M mobile network operators appearing.

As yet, there is no “set in stone” 5G technology standard; this is currently being discussed by the various regulatory bodies, network operators and other interested parties. What is known is that this 5G standard will involve high-band spectrum, which is much less congested than the currently used low-band spectrum. This means that the exponentially higher data loads expected over the next decade or so can be handled.

The International Telecommunications Union (ITU) expects a draft of the 5G standard to be ready around the end of 2017 or early 2018. This should be finalized and agreed upon by mid-2019, not long before the expected 2020 rollout!

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