Could 5G NR + TSN Mean the End of Industrial Ethernet As We Know It?

Author photo: Chantal Polsonetti
ByChantal Polsonetti
Industry Trends

Industrial manufacturers gearing up for IIoT installations, as well as their suppliers and solutions/service providers, need to recognize that industrial ethernet infrastructures, currently the backbone of IIoT architectures, could be radically disrupted by the combination of the pending 5G NR (New Radio) and TSN (Time Sensitive Networking) standards. Dual implementation of these emerging standards heralds profound impacts in areas such as convergence of wireline and wireless networks, delivery of reliable, ultra-low latency across a broad range of challenging industrial applications and environments, and the potential to displace industrial Ethernet wireline installations as we know them today.

5G NR + TSN Could Take IIoT to the Next Level

Much has been written about the potential of 5G networks, but also the significant challenges faced due to the extensive infrastructure build-out required.  This is particularly true in large footprint applications, such as Smart Cities, which will necessitate installation of numerous distributed cells.  Industrial plants represent a unique opportunity for 5G installations, however, due to the ability to construct dedicated private networks within the confines of a given plant or facility.

5G has tremendous potential benefits in industrial applications, particularly due to its intended high-performance across a broad range of applications throughout the architecture and ability to enable IIoT/Industrie 4.0 value propositions in areas such as easy, flexible system reconfiguration.  The advent of 5G will ultimately provide increased spectrum availability at a lower cost per bit and allow end devices to communicate directly with one another. 

3GPP 5G Standardization Timeline

3GPP 5G Standardization Timeline (Source = 3GPP)

Incorporation of the emerging IEEE 802.1 TSN standard into 5G networks will further consolidate the value proposition for manufacturing by enabling time synchronization across all architecture nodes.  TSN brings the deterministic response necessary for industrial applications to the standard Ethernet wireline specification, but 5G promoters such as Qualcomm are looking to migrate the TSN-enabled Ethernet Transport Layer to 5G networks.  The company demonstrated a first step towards this end earlier this year with a PROFINET installation running over 5G.  Ethernet TSN over 5G NR will enable Ethernet quality transmission in areas such as packet distribution, automatic address discovery, and QoS (Quality of Service). 

Combining TSN and 5G NR in the industrial network architecture extends the 5G potential beyond the many potential wireless applications to be served, such as for mobile and robotics/AGV installations, and into the heart of traditional industrial Ethernet wireline applications.  This convergence of wireline and wireless portends one of the holy grails of industrial connectivity:  availability of a single, converged, secure, and scalable network deployed throughout the architecture. 

ARC’s recent research into the IIoT Industrial Network Infrastructure marketplace contains core quantified forecasts for both 5G and TSN, as well as edge computing and other important developments.  See our new dedicated web page focused on the industrial network edge, as well as our Industrial Internet of Things and IIoT Industrial Network Edge groups on LinkedIn.  

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