Not too long ago the annual Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, the largest and most significant (you have to be there!) event for the mobile telecoms industry, incited little interest in the industrial community. Sure, you may have kept an eye out for news on Samsung’s latest, greatest smartphone, but likely because of recreational rather than professional interest. All that changed around the middle of the decade with increasing IoT related announcements from mobile operators and technology suppliers as, eyeing business opportunities, they established services and developed solutions for connecting things rather than people.
Now rebranded as MWC Barcelona, this year’s show (Feb 25-28) took place under the headline theme Intelligent Connectivity, to describe “the powerful combination of flexible, high-speed 5G networks, the Internet of Things (IoT), artificial intelligence (AI) and big data”. With Industry 4.0 one of the eight sub-themes, conference topics included “Embracing Change. What Industry 4.0 Means for Business”, “Industry 4.0: Blockchains, Supply Chains and Logistics”, and “Beyond Trials: Embedding Industry 4.0 in Corporate Culture & Operations”.
And out on the exhibition floor, while you could certainly be wowed by Samsung’s new Galaxy S10 5G smartphone (“harness the power of 5G to download HD TV shows and load apps in the blink of an eye”) and the Galaxy Fold, the company’s first foldable smartphone, competing for attention and indicating that smart factories as well as smartphones feature in the coming 5G world, was the coffee at the GSMA booth made by not a barista but by a vision-enabled robot connected on a 5G network from KT Corp (formerly known as Korea Telecom), its precise movement enabled by the fast speed and low latency associated with fifth-generation cellular technology. Or for the musically inclined, how about listening to a duet from two piano-playing 5G robots at the ZTE booth?
The Korean Wave
Away from these entertaining exhibits there was plenty of evidence that 5G has a promising future as a wireless network for real-world industry. With 5G making it worldwide debut at the last year’s Winter Olympics in Korea and that country also being the first to launch commercial 5G services this March, Korean mobile carriers were prominent in showcasing 5G’s applicability and advantages for industry.
The demonstrations by the likes of SK Telecom, KT Corp and LG Uplus followed last December’s announcement by the South Korean government of a 19-company-strong Smart Factory Alliance aimed at applying 5G technology in advanced production lines to create smart factories within a broader initiative to improve the competitiveness of the country’s manufacturing industry.
In Barcelona, in its smart factory showcase, 5G AI Machine Vision, SK Telecom demonstrated machine-vision enabled robots scanning products on an assembly line and sorting the items to separate conveyors based on scratch defect detection, with the robots transmitting the machine vision data over a 5G network to a cloud application to make the pass/fail decision and signal appropriate actuation of the robot arm.
LG Uplus demonstrated the real-time remote control capability of 5G by connecting to an LG Electronics’ factory back in Korea and manipulating the movement of autonomous mobile robots in the plant. Cameras on the robots relayed in real time the movement to a screen in the exhibition hall.
Meanwhile, partners Samsung, Cisco and Orange showed off 5G industrial applications involving drones as well as robots. A drone located outdoors at an Orange data center and carrying a very low latency, high-quality video system and 5G router, was piloted remotely from the Orange exhibition stand via a 5G tablet, with the video stream of the drone in flight fed back for viewing in the booth.
5G Comes to Hannover
While most industrial technology suppliers and end users may not (at least for now) be familiar with MWC Barcelona, they would I’m sure be quite acquainted with Hannover Messe, which takes place next week (April 1-5). And evidence of the growing interest in 5G for industry is set to come in the form of a special display area, the 5G Arena (Hall 16), constructed at this the world’s largest industrial trade show and which features a real, functional 5G network set up by cellular technology companies Nokia and Qualcomm and spanning eight showcases.
Companies and organizations participating in the 5G Arena include Bosch Rexroth, Ericsson, Festo, Harting, Phoenix Contact, Siemens, VW, Weidmuller, Zeiss, 5G ACIA (5G Alliance for Connected Industries and Automation), and the German Research Center for Artificial Intelligence (DFKI). As well as the testbeds and application demonstrations, an accompanying forum and conference with speakers from business, science and politics will discuss the various opportunities around 5G.
In a media statement heralding this new Hannover Messe initiative and, implicitly, the arrival of 5G into the industrial arena, Dr. Jochen Köckler, chairman of the managing board of show organizer Deutsche Messe, said: “The world has never seen such a diverse range of 5G industrial use examples in a real, working 5G network, all under one roof. For visitors, our arena will be the first time they have ever had the chance to experience 5G in action in an industrial setting and gain an understanding of its many benefits."