How 5G Will be an Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) Enabler

5G will enable IIoTPhoto Credit Yiran Ding on Unsplash

So why in the world are we talking about 5G here? The connection is use of CAD in digital twin models connected by the IIoT to real equipment in the field. Prompted by the wireless support limitations of 4G for IIoT this blog post on 5G (fifth generation cellular mobile communications) continues our series discussing new technologies that are impacting industrial suppliers (manufacturers and distributors) and shares our recommendations. We've previously shared our IIoT recommendations in IIoT - Every Company is Becoming a Software Company and The Coming Impact of IIoT on Industrial Sales and Marketing.

5G - What is it?

5G is the fifth generation of cellular mobile communications and succeeds the 4G, 3G and 2G systems. 5G performance targets high data rate, reduced latency, energy saving, cost reduction, higher system capacity, and massive device connectivity. It will be the glue that enables the internet of things to be a large-scale reality and deliver advances like smart cities, autonomous vehicles, remote controlled surgery, precision agriculture and automated factories.

5G - How Does it Work?

Firstly it is not one technology, it's a collection of new technologies. 5G is a programmable 'network of networks' that will use all the existing as well as new radio frequencies. 2G, 3G and 4G networks all operate at different frequencies from 800MHz to 2,600MHz and 5G will add new millimeter bands at 26GHz and 60GHz. These millimeter bands add more bandwidth (data carrying ability) than the entire range of existing mobile radio frequencies - up to 10 Gigabits per second. Not that a single user will need that but in aggregate that's the kind of capacity that's possible, so bandwidth could be perceived as unlimited. In addition 5G will include Wifi too - it's an intelligent combination of all these radios managed as a single radio that won't switch between them but rather use any and all of them simultaneously.

However there is a significant disadvantage to millimeter frequencies - they don't travel far! Perhaps only 100-200 meters from their base stations so the 5G antenna/mast infrastructure will be very different than we are used to. Cells will be much smaller so many more masts will be needed though they'll be much smaller in size. For example in California alone between 30,000 and 50,000 new towers will reportedly be erected.

5G - What will 5G Mean for Industrial Suppliers?

Having large scale sensor networks talking to machines with speed, reliability and low latency are the key functionalities for industrial suppliers. 5G's design purposes are extreme capacity, ultra-reliability (you can't risk loss of network when doing remote surgery!) and ultra-low latency. 5g is being designed more to connect machines than to connect people, and to connect trillions of machines! 4G networks typically have a 15-100 millisecond response time but if things are going badly it can be up to a second. If you are controlling a robot cutting metal plate you need a latency of less than 15 milliseconds. 5G should improve latency to about 5 milliseconds and for specialist applications getting down to 1 millisecond is possible. Of course for some applications a promise of service is not enough, 'guaranteed' service is needed and for that 5G offers network slicing technology - you'll be able to buy a slice of the network for your exclusive use.

Conclusions and Recommendations

1. Understand that 5G will be the glue that enables the industrial internet of things (IIoT) and incorporate 5G into your IIoT plans. Like other new technologies 5G will bring more new opportunities and threats but it will arrive gradually rather than all at once and it will mature over time. 3G has only just passed its peak, 4G is still climbing. 5G is just starting so expect it to gradually build, develop and improve.

2. Understand how broad IIoT really is and how widely it could benefit or disrupt your business model or individual products. Entering the IIoT race may no longer be a choice – nearly 90% of large US industrial manufacturers offer IIoT-driven products and services or are developing them. Don't be left behind! 5G speed, reliability and latency will enable new services and monetization of them for industrial suppliers. So we recommend experimenting with the technology as part of your IIoT strategy and looking for new revenue opportunities. Our take is that the most challenging part is creating successful new IIoT business models rather than integrating IIoT or 5G technology. IIoT tools already exist to help you get started technically. We expect the next five years to reveal major changes for industrial suppliers as more IIoT including 5G based innovations occur. This MAPI post describes 4 IIoT business models already in use by US manufacturers.

3. Define your own use of IIoT, including 5G, and invest in it. Don't stand by and wait for changes to happen around you. In the MAPI survey 40% of companies have allocated between 5 and 20% of their total R&D budget specifically for IIoT. Over the next five years 42% expect between 10 and 20% of their total revenue to be driven by IIoT products and services.

4. If you add IIoT options or capabilities to your products promote them wherever you promote your products. For example, by adding them as options to your online product configurators, downloadable 3D CAD models and 2D CAD sales drawings.

As always, our conclusions and recommendations aren't comprehensive, we're not trying to have the last word, just start a conversation. So please share your comments below or, if you'd like our opinion on your use of 5G and IIoT, please call us or click either button below:

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