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What happens when too many devices log on to a Wi-Fi network? Everything slows down. This can be frustrating if you are working remotely or trying to stream a television show. But imagine what this means for the smart manufacturing industry. Multiple devices, vehicles, and equipment need to connect to a factory’s wireless LAN to keep operations running, and they can’t compromise on performance.
As manufacturers deploy more intelligent, automated systems at the edge to drive efficiencies, the demand for internet and wireless connections soars even more. And these smart manufacturing systems are capturing and transmitting massive volumes of data on just about everything happening on the factory floor—equipment health, drive systems and motor performance, room temperature, humidity, and energy consumption, just to name a few.
Adding to the problem, regular Wi-Fi networks cannot handle all the data coming in from these systems. Nor can it meet the low-latency requirements to process data in real time, which is critical for operators to make informed decisions that prevent equipment and operation failures.
As a result, 5G in manufacturing has emerged as a go-to connectivity solution—but public 5G networks come with their own set of challenges. For instance, using public 5G networks means manufacturers rely on a provider and abide by their own restrictions and conditions.
Luckily, there is another answer.
Enter Private 5G Networks
Over the past couple of years, government and telecom regulators have allocated more spectrum for mission-critical and industrial use cases—making private 5G an option for manufacturers.
This enables the factory to take advantage of the significant performance gains in speed, capacity, and latency reduction that 5G offers, but without the constraints of public 5G.
“Private 5G provides flexible, reliable, and secure on-premises data usage without relying on public service providers,” says Will Huang, Global Business Development Director at Wave-In Communication, an end-to-end 5G AIoT system integrator. “As smart manufacturers continue to invest heavily in sensor-based technologies and industrial robotics to achieve superior operational efficiency and productivity, these technologies will absolutely require the high bandwidth and low latency that private 5G networks provide.”
Addressing 5G’s High Cost
Traditionally, private 5G deployment has been limited to larger companies because of the expense associated with implementing it.
“For small and medium enterprises, they’d probably go for public networks. It’s a tradeoff between costs and performance, and security,” says Huang.
But with new technology advancements, there has been a recent trend toward cloud-based private 5G. With this approach, most of the network functionality takes place in the cloud, reducing infrastructure, and making private 5G more affordable, Huang explains.
Private #5G networks provide the foundation for enterprise #DigitalTransformation, enabling technologies such as artificial intelligence, autonomous mobile robots, and AOI. @WaveInComm via @insightdottech
He expects to see cloud-based 5G solutions become more and more common in the next two years—meaning companies of all sizes can start including 5G technology in their digital transformation plans. And with companies like Wave-In, implementation and deployment are as easy as Wi-Fi.
For example, Wave-In recently worked with the Taiwanese computer manufacturer Inventec to deploy private 5G inside its Taoyuan factory for automated optical inspection (AOI). The company was able to send massive amounts of data and high-definition images to the cloud for inspection. AI and deep learning were then used to reduce false positives coming from the automated optical inspection, and the company was able to improve its production efficiency by 15 percent.
Implementing Indoor 5G
When it comes to indoor communication, Wi-Fi networks are the first solution people think of. However, there are many problems directly associated with Wi-Fi networks, which are susceptible to signal interference as well as connectivity and security problems. This makes them less than ideal or feasible for industrial upgrades and automated processes, says Huang.
5G supports the “on-the-move” nature of smart applications in manufacturing and transportation, making it possible to seamlessly link and track materials as they move through manufacturing and logistics processes, according to Huang.
The next hurdle manufacturers have to jump over is getting proper indoor 5G coverage. Huang explains that while most real-time applications take place indoors, it is difficult to implement. 5G uses high frequencies—compared to 3G and 4G/LTE—which have low indoor signal penetration. “The higher the frequency, the higher the loss through coaxial cables because of its physical characteristics,” says Huang.
Wave-In’s indoor 5G coverage, slim Distributed Antenna System (sDAS), solves this problem by replacing coaxial cables with fiber, which reduces mobile signal dead spots caused by insufficient base station coverage, buildings, and electromagnetic signal interference, Huang explains.
For instance, Taipei Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) worked with Wave-In to deploy sDAS along train routes to provide private 5G signals, driving efficiencies and enabling real-time video public safety monitoring.
4G or Wi-Fi would not be able to deliver the real-time streaming that this smart transportation project demands, according to Huang. The Wave-In solution allowed Taipei MRT to implement AI-based applications for “detection of abnormal behaviors, carriage crowd density, and foreign objects detection on the rails.”
Security also plays a big role in implementing private networks. 5G delivers a higher level of security compared to other wireless protocols, enabling operators to quickly deploy and adjust production lines, and reduce machine idle time.
“What is more, 5G private networks provide standalone networks for enterprises to enable full control over their operation and maintenance, significantly reducing dependency on third-party operators,” Huang says.
5G Foundation for Digital Transformation
Another advantage of private 5G networks is that enterprises can run their core networks and RANs (Radio Access Networks) on off-the-shelf Intel® x86 servers and switches. This frees not only operators but enterprises in all sizes from restrictions imposed by telecom equipment providers, and helps reduce CAPEX and OPEX, according to Huang.
With Intel as a key technology partner, Wave-In has big plans for the future. Huang says private 5G networks provide the foundation for enterprise digital transformation, enabling technologies such as artificial intelligence, autonomous mobile robots, and AOI.
Use cases won’t be confined to manufacturing and transportation, either. Wherever enterprises need secure, high-bandwidth connections with low latency, private 5G networks may be the answer to their connectivity challenges, says Huang.
This article was edited by Christina Cardoza, Senior Editor for insight.tech.