5G & Industrial Automation: Creating the Factory of the Future

Call it Industry 4.0, Industry-X, Industrial IoT, the Industrial Internet – by any name, it offers tremendous opportunities to transform productivity across many sectors of the economy.

Gabriel Brown, Principal Analyst, Heavy Reading

June 11, 2018

3 Min Read
5G & Industrial Automation: Creating the Factory of the Future

Industry 4.0, Industry-X, Industrial IoT, the Industrial Internet -- take your pick of the terms -- offer tremendous opportunities to transform productivity across many sectors of the economy from manufacturing, to primary industries and more.

By design, and partly through fortune, the emergence of cyber-physical systems, and concomitant advances in component technologies such as the Internet of Things (IoT), machine vision, artificial intelligence, robotics and software-driven operating processes, is happening at the same time 5G wireless technology is under development.

In my new white paper, Ultra-Reliable Low-Latency 5G for Industrial Automation, I argue that this confluence creates immense opportunities to improve quality, efficiency and adaptability across industrial sectors. Using the “factory of the future” concept and robotic motion control as an example, the paper discusses how, by meeting the performance requirements of the most demanding applications, 5G New Radio (NR) can contribute to more efficient and flexible software-driven production processes.

Developed in consultation with industrial end users, the 3GPP Study on Communication for Automation in Vertical Domains (TR 22.804) has identified a set of performance targets for industrial automation using 5G. These are summarized, according to the use case and across various performance criteria, in the table below.

Table 1: Industrial Automation Performance Requirements for 5G

Use Case(High Level)


Cycle Time

Typical Payload Size

# of Devices

Typical Service Area

Motion control

Printing machine


< 2 ms

20 bytes

> 100

100 m x 100 m x 30 m

Machine tool


< 0.5 ms

50 bytes


15 m x 15 m x 3 m

Packaging machine


< 1 ms

40 bytes


10 m x 5 m x 3 m

Mobile robots

Cooperative motion control


1 ms

40-250 bytes


< 1 km2

Video-operated remote control


10-100 ms

15-150 kbytes


< 1 km2

Mobile controlpanels withsafety functions

Assembly robots or milling machines


4-8 ms

40-250 bytes


10 m x 10 m

Mobile cranes


12 ms

40-250 bytes


40 m x 60 m

Process automation(process monitoring)


> 50 ms


10,000 devices per km2

5G does not itself redesign factory production lines or define industrial processes; it can, however, be an enabler of new operating models. To be successful in this, 5G must become embedded in the industrial automation process. In the first instance, this means replicating the functionality of today's wired industrial Ethernet systems to support existing controllers, switches, sensors and actuators. In the second, there is an opportunity to make 5G integral to the evolution of industrial IoT as machines and production lines are themselves re-designed, improved and automated.

To determine performance requirements and incorporate them into the 5G system design, the wireless industry needs to engage with potential users and future customers. A promising development was the formation of the 5G Alliance for Connected Industries and Automation (5G-ACIA) in April of this year. The 5G-ACIA is an industry group made up of industrial companies, technology vendors and operators that is working to align requirements from different sectors and then to communicate their priorities to 5G technology developers.

This work is invaluable to future users, because it will help ensure that they get the products and capabilities they need, and to 5G technology developers because they will know where to focus R&D investment. An example of this is how the "Industry 4.0" cohort of companies have proposed to use the IEEE Time Sensitive Networking (TSN) Ethernet standard to replace legacy industrial Ethernet systems such as Sercos, PROFINET and EtherCAT. Converging on TSN simplifies the work needed to integrate with 5G, generates economies of scale, and accelerates the development of industrial-grade wireless networks.

— Gabriel Brown, Principal Analyst, Heavy Reading

Read more about:


About the Author(s)

Gabriel Brown

Principal Analyst, Heavy Reading

Gabriel leads mobile network research for Heavy Reading. His coverage includes system architecture, RAN, core, and service-layer platforms. Key research topics include 5G, open RAN, mobile core, and the application of cloud technologies to wireless networking.

Gabriel has more than 20 years’ experience as a mobile network analyst. Prior to joining Heavy Reading, he was chief analyst for Light Reading’s Insider research service; before that, he was editor of IP Wireline and Wireless Week at London's Euromoney Institutional Investor.

Subscribe and receive the latest news from the industry.
Join 62,000+ members. Yes it's completely free.

You May Also Like