BT has announced the UK's first live 5G factory installation has been switched on at the Worcestershire 5G Testbed (W5G).
A 5G private network and mobile edge computing infrastructure was built using Ericsson equipment, that's now fully managed by BT.
Artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning, robotics, the Internet of Things (IoT), wearables, big data analytics and augmented reality should mean fully automated intelligent and dynamic manufacturing processes.
There are great expectations – the testbed's initial 5G private network installation has so far yielded positive results – increasing factory output by as much as 2%.
"We have learnt an awful lot within the W5G Testbed," said Carl Arntzen, CEO at Worcester Bosch.
"Both about the 5G network itself, but most importantly about the skills and competencies we need in-house, and what data to stream in order to develop a real-time understanding of the behavior of various machines."
The deal includes access to the EE Mobile Labs in Borehamwood. Working with Ericsson, the team will support the 5G private core and radio access network (RAN) from Ericsson, wide area network (WAN) and the multi-access edge computing (MEC) environment.
W5G launched in 2018 with government funding, aiming to create the UK's most comprehensive 5G testbed trial.
BT was one of the founding consortium partners, along with Worcestershire County Council, the University of Surrey, AWTG, Huawei, O2 and Malvern Hills Science Park.
The company is now stepping up its involvement, becoming the testbed's lead technology partner
Industrial cord cutting
5G technology has long been touted as a potential key driver for Industry 4.0.
The promise of low latency, speed and stability offers the potential for cost-efficient implementation of smart manufacturing and logistics systems running on the industrial Internet of Things (IIoT).
Using mobile technology to create private networks offers fast rollout, without the need for extensive changes to the infrastructure. In other words, a relatively easy way for business to invest in smart systems integrating AI and machine learning into the full production line and supply chain.
However, Pablo Tomasi, principal analyst, private networks, at Omdia, says the role of telecoms operators in the private networks market is still up for debate, with options for managing the networks including enterprise-managed or third-party managed, for example, by a system integrator or private network specialist).
"BT announced that it runs and manages this test network – the company must use this opportunity to provide clear lessons for prospective clients on why a telecoms operator is best placed to run and manage the network in commercial deployments," he said.
"While the UK private networks market has been ramping up in recent months, the government's decision to ban Huawei from 5G networks will bring additional costs for telecoms operators, whose first priority will be to protect revenues in the consumer market."
"This could in turn slow down their ambition and investment in new early-stage emerging opportunities such as private networks."
BT is hoping the partnership will offer up valuable data on how to further optimize private networks for other industries, including aerospace, and also for SMEs.
In the meantime, both BT and W5G are actively looking for other companies keen to take part in the trial.
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