5G private networks are proliferating. Revenue from 5G private networks will grow from US$1.6 billion in 2021 to US$65 billion in 2030¹. But the road to 5G private networks is paved with challenges that span all stages of the network lifecycle, from deployment to operations.
By Jessy Cavazos
Enabling 5G private network use cases, especially for Industry 4.0, demands high network performance. All network components must operate at peak performance and end-to-end network performance must be optimal. Only testing the RAN network during site acceptance, results in the creation of blind spots.
Overcoming these challenges requires a strong understanding of 5G private network use cases and their requirements. There is also a need to be familiar with the underlying standards, deployments options, and the key 5G features enabling these networks.
Multi-access edge computing (MEC), time-sensitive networks (TSN) and 5G system security features are essential for enabling 5G private networks for Industry 4.0 use cases.
MEC provides the 5G system with real-time awareness, TSN enables the connection of industrial devices to a mobile network and provides the ability to control them, and the security features of the 5G architecture increase the private network’s security.
Mobile-Access Edge Computing (MEC)
MEC brings computation capability closer to the user and helps achieve lower latency. MEC also enables the offloading of computing demands from devices that need a lot of computing resources like augmented reality (AR) glasses and wireless robots.
It enables offloading the computing requirements from these devices to an edge computer using a 5G data link and makes the glasses/robots lighter and more energy-efficient.
AR glasses will help increase worker safety, provide remote support, and help train workers in an increasingly complex environment, among other benefits.
In this example, a camera integrated into an AR device takes images and sends them to a processing server. The processing server determines the current field of view of the camera and the optimal placement for the augmentations registered previously in the current image.
It then renders the augmented image and sends it back to the AR glasses to display. Augmentations in the view field need to closely follow the AR device’s movements without introducing distortions. This use case requires significant computational capabilities, high uplink and downlink data rates, and low latency.
Time-Sensitive Networks (TSN)
TSN support is another important feature for 5G private networks. This feature is a key enabler for factory automation.
The low-latency features built into 5G can create an end-to-end time-sensitive communication channel that spans a whole infrastructure.
Many 5G private networks will be deployed in existing factories with a wired communication infrastructure in the process of adopting wired TSN. Translating wired TSN capabilities into 5G (and vice versa) is important for enabling Industry 4.0 applications.
Security is another important aspect to take into consideration in the deployment of a 5G private network.
The 5G architecture (Figure 3) includes significant security enhancements compared to previous generations of cellular technology including more capable and secure encryption and authentication systems.
The 5G network architecture is designed to take the security measures necessary for the different services a network provides, whether it be a voice call, the control of a robotic function, or collecting data from hundreds of sensors.
The Rise of 5G Private Networks
The adoption of 5G in the manufacturing sector is increasing. In a recent survey² with senior executives from 1,000 industrial organizations, 30 percent said they were at the piloting stage or beyond and 40 percent expected to roll out 5G at scale at a single site within the next two years.
In addition, many companies (64 percent) said they planned to adopt 5G-based edge computing services within the next three years and more than a third of the industrial organizations surveyed said they prefer to deploy 5G private networks.
However, 5G private networks present significant challenges to manufacturers and their partners. They need to ensure network coverage, connectivity, and stability. Achieving this goal require a full network lifecycle strategy.
¹ ABI Research, “Monetizing 5G Edge Networks”, 3Q 2021
² Accelerating the 5G Industrial Revolution: State of 5G and edge in industrial operations report, Capgemini Research Institute, 2021
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