What is 5G and how will it accelerate industry 4.0?


5G is the next generation of mobile communications technology. Designed to provide greater capacity, faster data speeds and offer very low network latency relative to 4G, its ultra-reliability will enable innovative new services across different industry sectors. The first wave of 5G commercial products is expected to be available by 2020. 5G mobile technology standards are currently under development and will include both an evolution of existing (4G) and new mobile technologies (5G New Radio). According to the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) who has defined the vision and requirements for 5G, services and applications that are expected to enormously benefit from 5G can be grouped into three different classes:

Enhanced Mobile Broadband

Together with an evolution of the services already provided by 4G, 5G is expected to provide much faster and more reliable mobile broadband, offering a richer experience to consumers for applications such as virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) as well as cloud-based services.The specific requirements are a minimum of 100 Mbps user-experienced data rate and 20 Gbps peak data rate. By comparison, 4G’s Peak data rate is 1 Gbps.

Massive Machine Type Communications

The Internet-of-Things (IoT) are where devices such as industrial sensors, actuators, consumer electronics appliances and street lighting wirelessly connect to the internet and each other. This is already happening on existing 4G networks and the technology is being used in everything from smart homes to wearables. 5G should help the evolution of IoT services and applications by improving the interaction between different platforms as well as enabling 50 billion devices becoming connected by 2030. Possible future applications include real-time health monitoring of patients, optimisation of street lighting to suit the weather or traffic; environmental monitoring, smart agriculture and industrial automation.

Ultra-reliable and low latency (URLLC) communications

This class rely on 5G new radio developments and includes services requiring a very high reliability and/or a very low (1ms) end-communication latency. Possible applications include connected and autonomous cars and aerial vehicles, remote control of robots and other machinery in hazardous conditions and industry automation.

Future services supported by 5G have different requirements in terms of speed, coverage, latency and reliability, which will demand different network solutions (the evolution of existing network and potentially new networks) and different deployment models (including many small cells), an appropriate network infrastructure (which will include both fibre and wireless connectivity to the core network) and access to different spectrum bands. Therefore, the concept of network slicing is being put forward, where different slices of the overall 5G network infrastructure (including spectrum) may be allocated to different types of services to end-users. Finally distributing some of the computation to the edge of the network, using the emerging Multi-Access Edge Computing (MEC) allows even faster response of the 5G network to end-user system’s requirement for content and computing.

5G accelerating Industry 4.0

An industrial revolution refers to seismic change in industrial processes, output and productivity. The First Industrial Revolution was triggered by the introduction of the steam engine and the mechanisation of manual work in the 18th century, while electrified mass production drove the Second Industrial Revolution in the early 20th century. The Third Industrial Revolution followed more recently when electronics and computer technology began to automate manufacturing and production.

The Fourth Industrial Revolution – also known as Industry 4.0 - is now upon us. It is characterised by a fusion of technologies that are blurring the lines between the physical, digital, and biological spheres. What distinguishes this revolution from its predecessors is the speed of technological breakthroughs - this has no historical precedent. Exploiting technology breakthroughs in fields such as 5G, the Internet of Things (IoT) and robotics is significant on its own. But what really turbo-charges the impact is seeing them work in concert to super-accelerate the pace of change of industry 4.0, bringing enormous benefits such as:

  • Massive reduction in setup of production lines and inventories resulting in significant annual saving for manufacturers

  • Substantial increases in flexibility, versatility, productivity and resource efficiency

  • Predictive maintenance of machines and machine part enabling just-in-time servicing and replacement

  • Zero touch factory operations enabled through IoT, 5G, AI and big data analytics technologies

  • Significant increases in efficiency of Warehousing and supply-chain

The World Economic Forum has shown that, when compared with previous industrial revolutions, this one is evolving at an exponential rate rather than at a linear pace. Moreover, it is disrupting almost every industry in every country. And the breadth and depth of these changes herald the transformation of entire systems of production, management and governance.

The key to achieving the enormous potentials of the marriage of Industry 4.0 and 5G is collaboration between stakeholders from the manufacturing and mobile industry “ecosystems,” which in the past, have been largely operating in parallel. Traditionally, the focus of mobile industry has been the provision of conventional service, voice, video and data to consumers while the manufacturing industry has been relying on its own solutions, or those retrofitted from the IEEE family of wireless technologies to support limited connectivity inside factories, plants and warehouses. With 5G all of this is changing rapidly. The 3GPP (Third Generation Partnership Project), the industry body tasked for developing global standards for mobile communications, is currently working hard on developing the necessary radio technologies and architectural components that once finalised, will be able to support the Industry 4.0’ connectivity requirements for massive connectivity, ultra-reliability and ultra-low latency. At the same time initiatives such as the 5G Alliance for Connected Industries and Automation (5G-ACIA), the EU’s 5G Infrastructure Association (5G-IA) and the Networld 2020 European Technology Platform serve as a global forum that brings together stakeholders from the manufacturing and mobile industry to address, discuss, and evaluate relevant technical, regulatory, and business aspects with respect to 5G for the industrial domain.

About the Author

Maziar Nekovee is Professor of Telecommunication, 5G Mobile Technologies and Head of Department of Engineering and Product Design at The University of Sussex, UK. His research focuses on how the latest advances in mobile communications, AI and IoT can result in disruptive breakthroughs in the manufacturing, robotics and automotive sectors. Prior to joining The University of Sussex he was Head of Samsung’s European 5G Research and Collaborations and prior to that he was with BT Research and Innovation. Maziar is an elected Vice Chair of Networld 2020 European Technology Platform and an academic member of 5G Infrastructure Public Private Partnership where he advises the European Commission in shaping the EU’s next Strategic R&D Framework Program, the 100 BN Euro Horizon Europe which starts in 2021.

Daniel Camara