Private 5G Mobile Networks for Industrial IoT

Gabriel Brown
7/30/2019
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Dedicated 5G campus networks, designed to meet the coverage, performance and security requirements of industrial users, are one of the most exciting -- and tangible -- advanced 5G use-cases under development.

Part of the reason for this is that the private mobile network market in general is taking-off. These networks enable enterprises to optimize and redefine business processes in ways that are not possible, or are impractical, within the limitations of wired and WiFi networks, and also cannot be reliably served by wide-area cellular. Right now, this means using LTE technology. Backed by a robust ecosystem of suppliers and integrators, private LTE is a growth market, with deployment activity across diverse industry sectors in all global regions.

Looking one step farther out, however, to scenarios where users have more demanding performance requirements -- for example, the cyber-physical systems that characterize Industry 4.0. -- and 5G technology comes into the picture, offering an investment path that can support these new-wave applications at scale. Building on the existing LTE ecosystem, private 5G campus networks are emerging to address the performance requirements of production-critical processes in sectors such as smart factories, logistics/warehouses, container ports, oil & gas production, chemical plants, energy generation and distribution and more.

In my new white paper, "Private 5G Networks for Industrial IoT," I discuss how 5G technology meets the performance requirements of industrial users and why it will integrate with the next generation of Operational Technologies (OT) used in these markets. The paper discusses how private 5G can be deployed across licensed, shared-licensed and unlicensed spectrum bands, and investigates key 5G radio innovations. Specifically, it addresses the use of time synchronization in shared spectrum to ensure predictable performance.

Among the key findings in the paper -- available for download here -- are:

  • The strategic importance of private networks is reflected in 5G R&D. Whereas in previous generations, private networking was an add-on capability to public cellular; in 5G these requirements are addressed directly in the initial specification phase.

  • The first 5G standards release (3GPP Release 15) contains many of the critical features that will underpin the performance needed in the industrial IoT segment. In addition, to support the advanced capabilities needed for cyber-physical industrial communication networks, an enormous amount of work is underway in Release 16, scheduled for functional freeze in March 2020 and ASN.1 freeze (i.e. protocols stable) in June 2020.

  • 5G offers the opportunity to consolidate industrial networking complexity onto a common network platform. An example is the cross-industry effort to transition diverse fieldbuses to the Time Sensitive Networking (TSN) Ethernet standard, and the mapping of TSN requirements to the 5G system specifications, such that a 5G campus network can transport TSN within the required latency, jitter and timing bounds.

  • There are a range of spectrum options that will accelerate private network adoption. In some markets, regulators are investigating, or already allocating, dedicated spectrum to enterprises to run private networks; these allocations are often targeted at industrial verticals.

  • Unlicensed spectrum is also attractive, with new radio techniques emerging to increase reliability in shared bands. Time synchronized sharing in unlicensed spectrum, in combination with other advanced 5G radio capabilities, can deliver highly predictable performance.

  • Heavy Reading believes spectrum will, in many cases, be de-coupled from the decision about which party designs, operates and maintains private networks. There is evidence that operators themselves see opportunities in dedicated enterprise spectrum and are preparing to offer manged private networks in these bands. Other active parties include systems integrators and specialist OT companies.

  • In the radio domain, multiple techniques are under development to will enable 5G to meet extreme industrial IoT performance requirements. These include flexible numerology, ultra-reliable low-latency communications (URLLC), spatial diversity, Coordinated MultiPoint (CoMP), cm-accurate positioning, QoS, spectrum flexibility (including NR-Unlicensed), etc.

  • At the system level, capabilities such as network slicing, improved security, new authentication methods, edge-cloud deployment, TSN support (with synchronization) and API exposure make 5G suitable for the private industrial IoT market

The investment the global 3GPP community -- which includes leading technology vendors, research organizations and network operators -- is making in industrial IoT is very significant. This multi-year commitment draws deeply on R&D capabilities at these organizations and creates confidence in the technology and roadmap.

— Gabriel Brown, Principal Analyst, Mobile Networks & 5G, Heavy Reading

This blog is sponsored by Qualcomm.

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