As fifth-generation mobile networks roll out, telecom companies say the technology’s lightning-fast speed will create “killer apps” and transform the way we consume entertainment. But the impact of 5G on businesses – potentially just as significant – is less discussed.
However, regulators are allocating 5G telecom spectrum to companies, making it easier for them to purchase their own private 5G networks that don’t share traffic with other networks.
Companies involved in manufacturing, mining and logistics are already testing and installing these private 5G networks, as are public sector organizations, including the army,
They do this because they need “reliable connectivity, security, and more connected devices on [their] networks,” says Tami Erwin, executive vice president and general manager of Verizon Business, a telecommunications and technology company.
Business networks – cellular (mobile), Wi-Fi and wired, using cable or fiber optics – have to deal with an increasing amount of data. Much of this new traffic comes from the rapid increase in internet-connected devices, the so-called “Internet of Things”. The total number of connected devices could reach 42 billion by 2025, according to a report by IDC, a research company.
By combining networks like this with autonomous robotics and augmented reality, and applying analytical techniques using artificial intelligence, companies hope to glean insights from the data — and drive growth.
Private 5G networks can provide a more reliable platform on which to connect these technologies, especially if they are used for critical business operations, experts believe.
” The why [for private 5G networks] is digital transformation,” says Brian Partridge, research director at 451 Research. “The network is critical to digital transformation, including . . . connected devices and robots in the factory. »
Only a few hundred companies – mostly large enterprises – currently use private 5G networks, according to industry estimates, but the market is expected to grow.
According to a provide according to MarketResearch.com, it will grow at an average rate of 40% per year between 2021 and 2028, when it will reach $14 billion.
Chris Johnson, head of global business operations at telecoms equipment maker Nokia, says companies using private 5G networks are already connecting a “rich tapestry” of machines and other physical assets, and analyzing the data. 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 factory can communicate and plan using “swarm intelligence” and AI-powered cameras to detect manufacturing defects.
“The real benefit [of a private 5G network] supports things that aren’t typical IT infrastructure, like vehicles,” says Toby McClean, a technologist who helped develop 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. And he connected that network to new terminal operating software, which scans and tracks car imports and exports.
“It gives us increased visibility in real time to know where the cars are and . . . then we can start sharing [data] with our customers, including where their cargo is,” said Harm van Weezel, Chief Information Officer of ABP. Benefits include real-time analysis 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 AI technology to analyze 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 batteries for electric cars. It is then analyzed and processed by technologies such as AI and “edge” computing, processing performed near the source of the data rather than in data centers or 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 to connect them to experts working remotely, who can advise on tricky issues.
“There’s about 250,000 pieces of data per car battery,” says Chris White, battery systems manager, manufacturing engineering, Ford. “Such as large amount of data comes out of the machine in such a short time that it would be impossible for someone to get all of this information.
But, for all businesses, the question is whether the benefits of creating a private 5G network are worth it and the cost.
A private network requires network spectrum and hardware, which can include radio units, antennas, networking equipment, and advanced computing. Some devices will need SIM cards to connect to the network. Building a private network will also be more expensive than building other types because the technology is new and needs to be more customized.
For the world’s largest companies – operating across multiple sites in dozens of countries – the cost could run into the tens of millions of dollars over the life of the deal, depending on its complexity, says Jason Leigh, director of researcher and 5G expert at IDC.
However, experts believe that private 5G networks will become cheaper as the market matures, making them affordable even for small businesses.
Last year, Amazon Web Services announced plans for a 5G private network service that he says could help organizations be up and running in days.
“Private 5G networks still have time to mature,” says Leigh. “[But]if you want reliable, predictable and secure operations, building a private 5G network is not a bad decision.