5G accesses previously unused frequency spectrums to increase capacity and remove bandwidth limitations. It will be a game-changer in the world of mobile communications. For consumers, it will allow high-speed streaming of video, better gaming and more. It will also support complex communications like those needed for driverless cars and general use IoT. But what will 5G automation mean for producers?
A recent international study by HMS Networks indicates that about half the automation industry professionals asked, were positive about its use. They expect the flexibility and performance offered by 5G to enhance real-time communications and extend connectivity into new areas. Their findings are available in a downloadable white paper “5G: Is the industry ready?”
For most of the respondents (58%), the reliability and robustness of wireless systems play a decisive role in whether to adopt 5G, a view shared by both OT and IT sectors. The importance of low latency was listed as important according to more than a quarter (26%) of the interviewees.
How do 4G and 5G compare
5G promises to deliver faster mobile speeds, with more reliable performance than 4G. Users can expect download speeds of 10 Gbps compared to ~300Mbps on 4G, with less lag and buffering.
Latency is the time it takes for a network to respond to a request. Whilst 4G latency is around 50 milliseconds, for 5G it’s about 1 millisecond. This is an important factor as it has the potential to support applications needing real-time control like motion and other automation processes.
Another benefit of 5G is its increased capacity. All mobile networks use radio waves to transfer data, but 5G uses higher frequencies than 4G. In fact, 5G will use frequencies between 30 and 300GHz, while 4G uses frequencies below 6GHz.
Accessing these higher frequencies means more bandwidth for carrying data faster and reliably. It supports the development of new high-speed low latency tools for automation and removes networking choke points. So, what does it mean for automation?
Depending on the requirements, 5G offers a scalable solution to enhance or replace existing communications infrastructures. With 5G automation, users can operate monitor and control their systems through a local private 5G Network. Alternatively, they can use the public network, and if necessary, enhance performance by installing more base stations across their sites.
Using ‘network slicing’ also gives users the option to create a semi-private network of their own – as the emergency services do now. Slicing enables operators to provide different performance levels where the customers need it.
Importantly its high availability supports machine to machine communications using low-power Massive Machine-type Communications (eMTC), supporting battery lives of up to ten years. it enables sustainable and reliable connectivity for large numbers of low power battery devices.
Current technologies allow plant operators to automate ~90% of their factory process: 5G allows them to automate the rest. Whatever systems were not easily connected now have a wireless alternative to connect to most devices in real-time.
The expectation is that mobile robots and AGVs will benefit from early adoption. It will completely remove the need for AGVs to use tracks embedded in the floor and open new opportunities for the technologies. Other applications to benefit from 5G automation include location and asset tracking and increased use of wearable devices. The wider bandwidth supports the transfer of large data volumes and videos used with smart AI tools like AR and VR.
Will 5G replace Wi-Fi?
5G is an improvement over Wi-Fi although they will compete in some areas, but Wi-Fi is inexpensive and works very well. With the advent of Wi-Fi 6 available up to 9Gbps, it is unlikely 5G will supplant it due to the massive installed base. There is no reason why the two should not coexist.
Will 5G automation replace network cabling?
One of the big advantages of cable is that security is easier to manage. In the medium term, it is unlikely many organisations will replace their Ethernet infrastructure with 5G even if they were running a 5G private network. Another consideration is that the current Industrial Ethernet protocols are difficult to adapt for use on 5G. However, Ericsson believes TSN integration on 5G would make smart factories better connected to meet the key requirements for industrial communication. 5G provides low latency, high bandwidth infrastructure and the timed delivery of data bandwidth (TSN).
5G is rolling out across the world, and many new applications will develop over the coming years. One of these is international compatibility. This is because the allowable frequency spectrum is different from country to country and may make some products incompatible.
The transition from 4G to 5G automation will generally be fast and straightforward. Makers of remote access devices can introduce 5G without any problems, and most probably have them already.
We are still at the beginning of 5G adoption, with more functionality under development. If one of the goals of 5G is the replacement of Industrial Ethernet networks, security is a big one. Another opportunity is for low power wireless, as present iterations lack the reliability, scalability and performance for industrial automation.