As fifth-generation mobile networks roll out, telecom companies say the blazing-fast speed of the technology will enable killer apps and transform the way we consume entertainment. However, we see that the impact of 5G on companies - potentially just as important - is mentioned much less.
However, regulators are already allocating 5G frequencies to companies, allowing them to buy their own private 5G networks and not share traffic with other networks.
Companies in industry, mining and logistics are already testing and installing these private 5G networks, as are public sector organizations and the military. These organizations do it because they need “reliable connectivity, security and more devices connected to their networks”, says Tami Erwin, executive vice president and general manager of Verizon Business.
Professional networks, cellular, WiFi and wired, have to deal with an increasing volume of data. Much of this new traffic comes from the proliferation of Internet-connected devices, known as "the Internet of Things or IOT". According to a report by research firm IDC, the total number of connected devices could reach 42 billion by 2025.
Connected objects combined with autonomous robotics, augmented reality and the application of analytical techniques using artificial intelligence will allow companies to learn from their data and thus stimulate their growth.
Private 5G networks could provide a more reliable platform for these technologies, especially if they are used for essential critical interventions and operations, experts believe.
According to industry estimates, only a few hundred mainly large enterprises currently use private 5G networks, but the market is expected to grow.
According to MarketResearch.com forecasts, it will grow at an average of 40% per year between 2021 and 2028, when it will be worth $14 billion.
Chris Johnson, head of global enterprise business at telecoms equipment maker Nokia, says companies using private 5G networks are already connecting a "rich mosaic" of machines and other physical assets, and analyzing the data from them to improve production. “5G networks can bring a higher level of connectivity and resilience,” he says. For example, they can improve predictive maintenance "before things stop".
In Taiwan, researchers collaborated with a technology company and an industrial company to develop a “smart factory” which deploys autonomous robots. This plant can communicate and plan using the " artificial intelligence " and AI-powered cameras to detect manufacturing defects.
"The real benefit of a private 5G network is to support things that aren't typical IT infrastructure, for example: vehicles", explains Toby McClean, an engineer who participated in the development of the plant.
Companies can build and operate their own 5G networks, or outsource the work to telecom operators, equipment manufacturers and technology groups.
Associated British Ports (ABP), which owns and operates 21 ports in the UK, has installed a private 5G network, supplied by Verizon, in partnership with Nokia, at its port of Southampton. He connected this network to new terminal operating software, which scans and tracks car imports and exports.
"It gives us better real-time visibility into where the cars are and then we can start sharing the data with our customers, including where their cargo is.", underlines Harm van Weezel, chief information officer of ABP. Benefits include real-time scanning of port activity and increased productivity, he adds.
ABP is also planning to connect CCTV cameras at its port of Southampton to its 5G network and use artificial intelligence technology to analyze the footage in real time. “Safety is by far one of our top priorities,” says Van Weezel.
This level of automation would be much more difficult if ABP were still using its old outside network, which had about 200 WiFi points, he says.
Meanwhile, Ford, the US automaker, is testing a private 5G network at a UK manufacturing site in Essex. The data is collected from sensors in the machines that make the batteries for electric cars. It is then analyzed and processed by technologies such as artificial intelligence and “edge” computing, i.e. processing carried out near the source of the data rather than in data centers or in the cloud. .
If the technology detects a manufacturing defect, such as battery contamination, it sends a message through the network to alert the machine operator. Operators wear augmented reality glasses that connect them to experts working remotely, who can guide them in case of problems.
“There's about 250 pieces of data per car battery,” says Chris White, battery systems manager, industrialization and production manager, Ford. "So much data comes out of the machine in such a short time that it would be impossible for someone to get all of this information."
A private network requires frequencies and hardware, which may include LTE radio units, antennas, network equipment. Some devices will need SIM cards to connect to the network. Building a private network will also be more expensive than other types of networks because the technology is new and needs to be more customized.
However, experts believe that private 5G networks will become cheaper as the market matures, making them affordable even for small businesses.
From a free translation of Nick Huber's article. February 7, 2022. Industry turns to private 5G to speed digital change. The Financial Times Limited 2022.