“How do you apply physics in a company setting?” is a question that occupies both Etienne and Niels. Which is not strange, knowing both have a background in physics. Etienne is Presales Manager at the Centre of Excellence in Aachen. Niels König is head of the department “Production Metrology” from Fraunhofer IPT and coordinator of the 5G-Industry Campus Europe. They have a first-row view of how the industry is developing and how communication technology plays an essential role in it. However, Etienne states, “It is not about pushing technology to the market, it is about the combination of affinity with the industry on the one hand and knowledge of communication technology on the other and to bring the best of both worlds together.” Niels adds: “It is not just about research, but we also focus on the applications and its implementation. We are not looking at 5G in the sense of research in communication technology, but we are trying to bring 5G into applications in production.”
5G has many applications, but for the industry, its impact is more that just providing connectivity. At the 5G-Industry Campus Europe, researchers work together with industries, both on direct bilateral contract as well as in in collaborative research projects. “Our research center looks more like a factory. We have a shop floor, completely equipped with various state-of-the-art machines and robots dedicated to multiple research purposes. We invite companies to collaborate with us to see what the factory of the future could look like.” One of the biggest challenges is that the ecosystem is not ready. One example is the number of devices that are available on the market is very limited, some being even prototypes, which obviously is a weakness in the market.” Niels says, and he continues: “For us, building the ecosystem and connecting with all the companies around us is currently our most important focus point. It is important not only to look from a technical point of view, but also on what we want, what is possible, and how we can connect that.”
Niels calls it a “chicken and egg problem”. The companies that want to use 5G do not know enough about the possibilities or the limitations. This makes it difficult to generate ideas and to understand what the possible benefits for themselves could be. Simultaneously, mobile network operators must learn to speak the same language, understand more of the industry, and find a business model other than their traditional one. “Ericsson is really taking a leading role in their innovation centers to build domain knowledge and competencies in this industrial field,” Niels mentions. Supporting companies along the journey is more important than ever. At Fraunhofer IPT, they even have a model for it: the 5G-Audit. It already starts by teaching companies the possibilities before identifying the use cases. Both Niels and Etienne agree that it is essential to define the potential because eventually, one needs to define the economic benefits of using 5G. The next step is to think of the most appropriate deployment scenario, and the last step is about supporting the implementation of the use case and the network. It is not a one size fits all solution. There are individual requirements and wishes within the industry, which means that it is pretty diverse, and there is not only one answer for every customer. Instead, specific solutions for all the specific requirements are needed. These solutions are tested both at the Centre of Excellence and the 5G Industry Campus. “Here, we make robust solutions that not only work in a protected environment but also in an open environment with all the noise, heat, dust and so on. So, one can apply them in daily practice,” Etienne mentions.
5G offers many advantages for the industry sector. When asking Etienne and Niels, they both agree on the most important aspect. Niels says: “It is the resilience, the robustness. No matter the lot size, the variance, you can cope with any deviations that you might have in production and can push the production processes as close as possible to the physical limits, in terms of efficiency and effectivity”. Customers need highly reliable and very robust systems. When using Wi-Fi, the frequencies are not protected, meaning that possible disturbance from the outside can happen. Etienne explains: “The moment you are upscaling an application with Wi-Fi, the network will respond in a certain way. You can compare it to a social drink. You talk to a few people over a drink, and as long as the room is relatively empty, you can follow the conversation. As soon as the room becomes more and more filled, more and more people start talking, and the noise level rises. You need to listen to see if someone else is talking before you can say something yourself. That means, when it is really busy, you sometimes have to wait a long time to get over it. In both cases, you get either a loss of data or a delay on the line, and that is very disadvantageous for the entire application because it benefits from a fast connection.” With 5G, you are able to talk simultaneously and still hear each other, for a drink that might not be ideal, but for processes it is exactly what you need.
Another significant development in the industry is the dedicated network solutions, which are attractive both in terms of reliability and security. With dedicated networks, companies can keep all the data within their network. However, a dedicated network does not have to be entirely local. It is also possible to have a dedicated radio access network and then an edge breakout on-premise but still be a part of an operator’s network. As Niels mentions, “for the majority of industrial use cases, latency is critical, and you have to see which kind of deployment scenario matches all the requirements. A complete public network will not provide a latency below a certain number of milliseconds. However, using part of a public network has the benefit that the operator can control the customer’s network. Thus, the customer does not need to build up any expertise. Etienne explains why it is so important to make private networks available for the industry: “A dedicated network allows you to have more control, which can be very beneficial if your company places a high demand on availability or security.”
At the Hannover Messe, visitors can learn everything about dedicated networks, experience the latest 5G technology, and get insights into use cases across sectors worldwide. When asking his opinion on the Hannover Messe, Niels responded: “Since the Industry 4.0 trend, the Hannover Messe has become the only trade show that makes sense for digitization and production”. This edition, it became visible again how 5G is impacting the industry world. Etienne mentions that “It can be seen that 5G takes an increasingly important role in the industry and the Hannover Messe plays a vital role in being an interface and showing the relevance to all the visitors.” Some recordings that are definitely worth it to watch? Niels had a 5G live demonstration in the launching the 5G-ACIA testbeds, (Thursday 15/04 at 18:15h) and Joe Wilke, head of the Centre of Excellence, had a keynote about the 5G platform (Tuesday 13/04 at 14:30h). More interesting recordings can be found here.