5G & the Factory of the Future

You may have noticed recently that operators and vendors have started to talk up "Factory 4.0" as a banner heading for another use for 5G.

This envisages using 5G as the bedrock for updating factory facilities across the globe, to support robotics, automation, artificial intelligence and more. In fact, when I say "bedrock," that even means using 5G wireless connectivity to get rid of the wiring in such facilities. (See Nokia Reveals Future X Network Project and Ericsson's CTO Talks Up 5G Opportunities.)

Factory 4.0 applications appear particularly suited to high-band millimeter wave 5G networks that can deliver massive data (1-Gbit/s and up) flows over a short range.

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One key aspect of the 5G spec, however, that needs to be completed before many Factory 4.0 applications can be supported, is called Ultra-Reliable Low Latency Communication (URLLC), or guaranteed network latencies of a few milliseconds or less. This is due in the 3GPP Release 16 -- a.k.a. 5G NR Phase 2 -- due to be completed December 2019. This likely means the updated standard will get into commercial usage sometime in 2020 at the earliest.

URLLC will be necessary for applications such as precision robotics and automated delivery. It will also be necessary when people want to use thin client devices, which rely on millisecond connections to the cloud so that "dumb" devices can handle computing tasks. (See Could 5G Revitalize the Thin Client Market?)

Naturally, this also applies to the push towards automated vehicles.

So, it seems that the factory of the future could become much more of a money-maker for carriers and wireless vendors, but not quite yet!

— Dan Jones, Mobile Editor, Light Reading

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DanJones 11/14/2018 | 11:57:55 AM
Re: Wishful thinking? Yeah, sometime in 2020 is just the earliest it probably could happen...
Duh! 11/14/2018 | 11:23:14 AM
Re: Wishful thinking? I understand that the use case is a "Factory of the Future" (thus the title of the post), so existing factories are not a consideration.

One of the main objectives is rapid reconfigurability. They want to be able to move machinery around the factory without touching the network. This explains why it's wireless.

The other is moving real-time control of machinery from each machine center to the data center, a more disaggregated model.  The motivations seem to be roughly similar to SDN in telecom. Thus, the latency requirements.
brooks7 11/14/2018 | 10:29:40 AM
Re: Wishful thinking? Well, this also makes an assumption that people are out buying new gear with 5G built in.  Unlike Connected Cars (which I think is completely problematic for other reasons - Hey network is down...guess we can't drive any vehicle anywhere) which is a new market, Factories exist.  So, it would have to be new factories and everyone would have to put it in their equipment.  Otherwise wiring (like power wiring) would be needed.  In fact it might be faster to create power + net cabling schemes.  So, it is not a fantasy - just maybe a 2030 thing.


Duh! 11/13/2018 | 9:31:09 PM
Re: Wishful thinking? I don't follow 802.11 very closely, but understand that 802.11ay has very tight latency objectives. Their requirements document specifies <10ms.
DanJones 11/13/2018 | 8:16:29 PM
Re: Wishful thinking? Well, you getting ultra low latency outta WiFi?
Duh! 11/13/2018 | 6:09:21 PM
Wishful thinking? If I were running a factory, why would I want to put somebody else's 5G network between my machines and their controllers?

I'd probably be looking at 802.11ay in unlicensed, or possibly private licensed mm-wave spectrum rather than 5G. No sense in carrying around all the baggage that comes with mobility and carrier services.

That's not to say that URLLC is useless. Its place is outdoors/off-campus: drones, fracking operations, and a few smart grid, smart cities, transportation and public safety applications,  seem like valuable use cases.
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