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5G Private Networks and their role in digital transformation

Sam Salih, Private Networks Lead at O2, discusses the role that 5G private networks will play in the manufacturing and industry digital transformations of the future.

Private 5G networks have been around for some time now, delivering the secure, reliable connectivity required to deploy and manage business critical processes. They address many of the current limitations of WiFi and are powering the connectivity infrastructure for manufacturing and industry throughout the UK. However due to 5G, private networks are no longer just providing secure connectivity, but are now driving the digital transformation of industrial companies.

 

So what does a 5G private network look like, and how will it differ to what’s already out there?

For industrial environments, like manufacturing plants, logistics, and transport hubs, the answer lies in looking ahead. Think of a 5G private network as a next generation of local area network (LAN), with the low latency and high bandwidth needed for the automated industrial and manufacturing applications that will define industry 4.0.

The benefits of a 5G private network include its enhanced capabilities to make wireless connectivity possible in sites and for uses that have proved unfeasible until now. I believe that a private 5G network delivers five key benefits:

 

  1. Security: By combining the enhanced security of 5G with a private network, you are able to achieve incredibly high levels of data and device security because you establish and manage your security policies – your data need never leave your premises. You can mitigate against cyber-attack and data breaches by storing and processing data locally, on premise.
  2. Control: On any public network, prioritising mission critical devices is at best challenging, and often not possible at all. The benefits of private 5G network means you have complete control over how you use it, and what you use it for, through the use of slicing. For example, you can give maximum priority to mission critical applications like autonomous ground vehicles, whilst reducing priority for routine asset tracking and sensor monitoring.
  3. Low Latency: With far lower latency than 4G and other wireless technologies, 5G can enable ultra-fast communication between devices, critical for autonomous ground vehicles, automation, robotics, Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR) applications. In addition, latency on a private 5G network can be lower still through the use mobile edge computing (MEC) and on-premise private cloud deployments.
  4. High Bandwidth: 5G’s superior bandwidth allows vast quantities of data to be transmitted over the network, enabling simultaneous communication between the huge number of devices that the smart plant/site of the future will need.
  5. Reliability and flexibility: The signal from WiFi and other technologies can get blocked by obstructions, such as walls, metal objects and between sites, particularly on industrial sites where the large amounts of metal often form faraday cages, blocking signal. 5G overcomes this by sending data to its destination via an alternative path. As a result, the limitations of WiFi can be overcome by a 5G private network, which enables industrial applications where absolute reliability is essential, through walls and buildings without obstruction.

 

How can a Private Network benefit your organisation?

Whatever else this year has taught us, it has highlighted the need for digital transformation to enable the adoption of new technologies that allow organisations to continue operating efficiently. 5G private networks can enable digital transformation by letting organisations embrace the Industry 4.0 ecosystem and by providing access to automation and robotics applications that cannot be deployed without the core, critical capability a 5G private network can provide. Applications include:

  • Automated Ground Vehicles – Increasingly, Autonomous Guided Vehicles (AGV) are used in logistics and manufacturing support, and will need 5G capabilities to be able to navigate and position themselves accurately and safely within factories and plants.
  • Vehicle Platooning – where two or more vehicles are connected with ‘vehicle to-vehicle communication’, allowing them to communicate with each other and operate as a single unit. O2’s 5G network is powering the Connected and Autonomous Vehicle (CAV) testing centre at the Millbrook Proving Ground.
  • Collaborative Robots – Digital transformation in manufacturing is where humans and robots interact within a shared space. 5G’s low latency and high reliability can introduce substantial improvements in robotic efficiency and production automation, whilst maintaining worker safety as the ultra-low latency enables machines to stop automatically if a person gets too close.
  • Remote Operations/Teleoperations – Where 5G can be used to control premises, facilities and operations remotely. In construction, we have enabled crane operators to step away from the controls of a crane, by enabling them to control several cranes safely from the ground.

 

Use cases like these are not predictions of what might be possible. They are in operation right now. We are working with customers across a wide range of sectors, to help them understand how their organisations could benefit from a 5G private network through proof of concepts, deployed within their live environments.

Of course, a private 5G network is likely to be defined by its ability to deliver new operating models, and reinvented processes. As technologies mature, the scale and range of applications that will be deployed within a private network may increase hugely. That’s why we collaborate with customers, not only to demonstrate the value of a private 5G network today, but also to help develop and guide them on their journey of digital transformation that a private network will enable.

I believe we are close to the time when entire production lines in factories could be reconfigured, with automation delivering the truly ‘dark’ factory, fully automated, 24/7, without the need for heat, light or human intervention.

 

Where next?

If you are looking at digital transformation and want to understand how a 5G private network can help enable it, we are here to help you on your journey. We have a team of specialists ready to discuss the specific challenges you face and the objectives you need to meet. In our experience, it isn’t just about the technology that will deliver the solution. It’s also about getting the business ready, culturally, for the changes that are coming. We can help your people to embrace the change and work with you to deliver the digital transformation that will help drive the growth of your organisation.

 

Speak to our expert team on 0800 955 5590 or contact us online.

 



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