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5G absent from VW's big manufacturing plant upgrade

Volkswagen is embarking on a major technological upgrade of more than a dozen of its European auto manufacturing plants.

The company's goal is to connect all of its major manufacturing equipment to the cloud so it can use technologies like artificial intelligence to compute things like predictive maintenance of machines and to reduce reworking of vehicles.

But 5G is nowhere to be found in Volkswagen's massive upgrade project, despite the fact that the effort appears to be a perfect fit for the technology.

"Data from several hundred thousand machines and plant items will be recorded by sensors and analyzed by standardized apps on the cloud," Volkswagen wrote about its upgrade program in a release. "Each machine, equipment item and system will be connected manually. In the case of older machines, it will also be necessary to install sensors. In the final stage of development, the total quantity of information to be processed each day will correspond to the volume of data from a small town in Germany."

The automaker said the first 15 services enabled by its upgrade ought to save the company $2.34 billion by 2025.

So how will all these machines get connected by Siemens (Volkswagen's integration partner) to Amazon Web Services (AWS)?

"All plants mentioned in this press release do have a wireless Wi-Fi network as well as a wired network fully supporting the production process," a company representative wrote in response to questions from Light Reading.

That's noteworthy considering the "manufacturing facility" use case is routinely touted by 5G operators and vendors as a prime area for exploitation. They argue that such facilities could make use of the speedy connections and low latency supported by 5G, including via the connection of manufacturing equipment to the cloud.

The Volkswagen representative stressed that the company isn't opposed to 5G. But it doesn't have any plans to tap into the next-gen technology's potential.

"Volkswagen is looking intensively into the topic of private 5G campus networks," the representative wrote. "From Volkswagen's point of view, 5G technology has considerable potential for becoming a driver of the industrial internet of things (IIOT). However, we don't have concrete plans for the rollout of such LTE/5G cellular networks in the production plants."

To be clear, Volkswagen kicked off its manufacturing plant program in 2019, at the dawn of 5G. Therefore it may not have been interested in helping to test out a relatively new technology as part of a cost-savings effort.

Moreover, companies ranging from Ericsson to AT&T have announced private wireless 5G network deployments in manufacturing facilities stretching from Texas to Estonia, hinting that such efforts are designed to move the market forward.

Nonetheless, Volkswagen's "Industrial Cloud" project is worth noting because it is exactly the kind of effort that 5G proponents are targeting. But it's also apparently the kind of project that is entirely possible with Wi-Fi and wired networks.

Mike Dano, Editorial Director, 5G & Mobile Strategies, Light Reading | @mikeddano

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