Ralph Ravi Kayden
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5G: Benefits Beyond Misconceptions and Concerns

Nov. 24, 2020
As manufacturers increasingly create and leverage real-time data on the factory floor, 5G has become a viable choice.

As 5G becomes the industry standard for wireless communication, it will undoubtedly have a lasting impact on manufacturers, especially as they look to fortify IoT environments. Simply put, the three pillars of 5G—ultra-low latency, ubiquitous connectivity, and massive data capacity—will enable connected, flexible, and responsive manufacturing systems that are more resource-efficient, demand-responsive, and safer for workers. Manufacturing lines, for example, will see more equipment on the move—whether it is robots and cobots or production stations moving to reconfigure the factory floor. For this environment, wireless systems provide the necessary flexibility.

“At another level, ubiquitous connectivity combined with sensing and monitoring nodes will support advanced analytics that improve factory operation, touching everything from predictive maintenance to material waste reduction,” says Alberto VanBurgh, general manager of the wireless systems group at Analog Devices. “Imagine a monitor on a motor that sends an alert about an upcoming part failure, so the operator can quickly order a replacement part and schedule maintenance before the part fails.” 

Recognizing the pending impact, Nokia augmented its Worldwide Internet of Things Network Grid (WING) earlier this year with new 5G capabilities. This action enables carriers to offer global scale 5G IoT services to customers without building out their own networks. As companies make changes to their IoT solutions, specifically to include 5G, they will introduce a type of massive data scale into their systems that the backend solution will need to be ready to support, explains Veeam Senior Director of Product Strategy Rick Vanover. “The amount of data, amount of data transfer, and the number of devices will introduce some particular concerns that manufacturers need to consider. After all, it will become increasingly harder for organizations to have clear visibility into their data,” he says.

When developing an IoT strategy, 5G provides enhanced bandwidth and reduced latency for devices defined from the 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP). “This introduces options for more critical IoT applications and help them scale. Additionally, some IoT solutions can have 10+ year battery life which introduces new implementation challenges,” says Vanover. “With 5G, organizations receive better positioning, better battery life, better real-time use cases, serious scale coupled with better performance.”

To deal with this, organizations will need to move their focus on migrating to the cloud to help accommodate growing workloads and implement solutions that will adequately protect and manage data. “Often the only practical way to build IoT solutions based on 5G is through the hyperscale public clouds. The reality is a solution deploying thousands of IoT devices produces so much real-time and possibly rich media, that it can quickly saturate communication lines and storage resources of the traditional data center,” he says. “The hyperscale public clouds provides the scalability to match this significant change and data coming for IoT solutions. By ensuring cloud is part of the IoT solution powered by 5G from the start, organizations will avoid complicated problems later that can put the whole IoT solution value at risk.”

Vanover suggests conducting due diligence from a security perspective to avoid a surprise down the road from an expired certificate or other low-level security incident that can put an entire IoT solution at jeopardy.

Empowering digital twins

As one of the most frequently touted new features of 5G is the opportunity for carriers to deliver secure, isolated network services to enterprises and smart cities, SWIM.AI’s CTO Simon Crosby says. SWIM.AI is edge intelligence software company that focuses on streaming data and knows that to make it most valuable it needs to be handled, analyzed, and acted on immediately, as opposed to today’s approach of storing the data first then accessing and analyzing which delays its usefulness.

According to Crosby, a recent innovation in streaming data analysis is key to a rapid solution to the capacity management problem in 5G networks: digital twins that analyze streaming data on-the-fly. The approach relies on a distributed fabric of concurrent digital twins—one for each base station and device that process raw data such as measurements of connection quality, bitrate, transmission rate, QoS committed, and received from each real-world device in parallel.   

Digital twins run on a distributed execution platform that includes both per-base station and regional compute, says Crosby. “Each digital twin represents a single entity, and the graph of digital twins represents proximity, containment, and even correlation. Each digital twin also processes its own real-world data and shares its state over the graph with related digital twins to enable real-time contextual analysis. The state of every real-world device and virtual object is mirrored, in real-time, by the set of digital twins.  The distributed graph enables real-time state sharing—a bit like a LinkedIn for things.”

Digital twins process their own raw data and analyze their own state and the states of others they are linked to—enabling analysis, learning and even prediction.  “Each digital twin statefully evolves and analyzes its own state and the state of its linked neighbors, and then streams its insights in real-time to the capacity management application, discarding the original raw data,” he says. “This enables most raw data to be discarded at the base stations where it originates, and the distributed computation helps to solve the capacity assignment and monitoring problem using the states of the digital twins. This reduces the data volume and offers a huge speedup because computation can be done at memory speeds. The net result is that the computing capacity required is substantially reduced—typically less than 10 percent of the resources required for a store-then-analyze approach—and results are continually available.” 

Managing the misconceptions

Probably the biggest misconception is how 5G will roll out, explains VanBurgh. “Given the media hype around 5G, many people think it will be a quick implementation. More realistically, 5G will come in small advances that accumulate over time,” he says. “There is the theory of the technology hype cycle, where there is a lot of enthusiasm about the next new thing, which evaporates when the first generations of the technology don’t live up to the hype. The technology continues to advance, though, and over time, it exceeds the original vision.” 

To manage effectively in this environment, manufacturers need to invest wisely over the long term. Starting with a 5G wireless network provides a future-proof foundation to build from because it is flexible and can cost-effectively grow as your needs expand.

According to VanBurgh, another misconception is that 5G is mainly for mobile phones and higher speeds. Absolutely this is an important use case and one that gets a lot of media attention. However, 5G is a different beast compared to 4G. “Many applications will be affected and activated by 5G, including artificial intelligence (AI), augmented reality (AR), remote medical care, autonomous transportation, etc. 5G deployment will sprout new innovation cycles and businesses,” he says. “Specifically in manufacturing, connecting millions of sensors in a factory requires mass connectivity and low latency—which is a much different, and more critical, use than downloading 4k movies to a phone.”

It’s crucial not to underestimate the enormity of the task ahead for companies considering deploying 5G in their manufacturing facilities, explains VanBurgh. “Today’s managers need to imagine and then create the next generation of manufacturing excellence, most likely while standing in a facility that is already successfully making and selling product,” he says. “Think back to the time right before Henry Ford launched his first advanced assembly line: whatever the other auto manufacturers were planning at that moment was obsolete, but it would be several years before they knew it.”

It is difficult to shed the biases of the past when looking forward, but that’s what’s needed now; it’s not just thinking big, it’s thinking big enough. That doesn’t mean diving into the deep end when you don’t know how to swim. Start with a big plan, lay a strong foundation, and learn as you build. The applications and use cases we discuss now are the known opportunities; it’s being able to capture the yet unknown gems where the real value will emerge.

Think about millions of sensors in a factory, both stationary and moving around factory floors in automated guided vehicles (AGVs), robots, and cobots. Wiring all of these is an expensive, and in some scenarios, an impractical and impossible undertaking. But upgrading and adding sensors to further optimize processes can be done much faster through wireless connections, while also helping reduce latency. Wireless technology will be a key approach to collecting and sharing data, anywhere and anytime. With the super wideband and low network time delay features, 5G service will make it much easier and more efficient. 

Addressing concerns

As 5G continues to move forward, it would be foolish to overlook the consequences of political opposition, explains Michael Shonafelt. “There could be issues in deploying these networks. Elected officials are aware of the cloud of concern and speculation around what it may do to people,” Shonafelt says. “These tend to be smaller facilities with little power therefore, you need more of them, which tends to multiply the challenges and can extend the permit process.”

Shonafelt’s advice? Plan that it will take between six months to a year to get a permit.

Cost is another concern according to VanBurgh, especially considering that 5G deployment cost in early stages is higher than 4G LTE. “It needs more transceivers and more radios to provide good coverage and service. This poses a huge challenge, not only for carriers and equipment providers but also for the end-users. All the big carriers are racing to build and deliver 5G networks,” he says. “As the network matures and more users start using it, it leads to a lowering of costs, just like we saw with 4G and 4G LTE networks.”