Enabling Industry 4.0 through private wireless networks

29 March 2021 | Stephane Daeuble

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Stephane Daeuble

Blog Author | Guest contributor

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Nokia predicts a potential need for 14 million global industrial sites to be equipped with private wireless connectivity in the coming decade. Stephane Daeuble, head of marketing - enterprise solutions, explains.

Whilst the third industrial revolution profoundly impacted services businesses such as financial services and the media, asset-intensive industries with a lot of heavy equipment, production lines and materials handling missed out on this ‘digital revolution’. The cabling and WiFi networks that worked well in an office setting, weren’t designed for mobility and Wi-Fi for challenging radio environments, making them inappropriate for industries with operational technology application needs. 

But this is set to change with Industry 4.0, as it has become known, which will use digitalisation and automation to sustainably source resources, move them to market, manufacture, power, operate and service all aspects of our new, technological world, including the management of our cities and the well-being of people and the planet.

Here's where private wireless networks get involved…

To digitally transform their processes and systems, these industries will need to connect all sensors, machines and workers in the most flexible way available. Tethering them to a wired network infrastructure is costly and limiting. Instead, there is growing interest in the use of industrial-grade private wireless networks to cost-effectively implement the widest range of Industry 4.0 applications while providing the reliability and security of typical ethernet cables.

Private Wireless provides wireless broadband connectivity much like a public wireless network, but it is owned and controlled by the organisation that built or purchased it. Security is intrinsic, with built-in encryption and authentication capabilities. High data rates and predictable, low latency gives mission-critical reliability to keep systems up and running and ubiquitous connectivity across large campuses sites, indoors and outdoors. They also help organisations scale by providing a single wireless network for operational technology which also supports critical voice and low power sensors

Benefitting different sectors…

There are a number of industry verticals and public sector domains that make excellent candidates for the use of private wireless networks - mining, utilities, factories, warehouses, ports, airports, public safety and smart cities in particular and many within these sectors are already using such networks to help digitalise their operations, taking advantage of the benefits it offers over cabled or WiFi networks. Most of these use cases are possible today on 4.9G (the latest generation of 4G/LTE) available today too and will be further strengthened with 5G.

We’re predicting the potential need for 14 million global industrial sites to be equipped with private wireless connectivity in the coming decade and according to technology specialist ABI Research, the private wireless market is expected to grow to €16.3 billion in 2025.

More immediately, ABI's Q2 2020 survey of 600 manufacturing decision-makers found 74% of respondents are looking to upgrade their communications and control networks by the end of 2022 with more than 90% investigating the use of either 4G and/or 5G in their operations. Other responses found 63% were looking to digitalise and improve existing infrastructure, 51% to automate with robotics, and 42% to improve employee productivity.

Getting started…

Organisations that want a private wireless network can either build and run it themselves or outsource. Mobile network operators, system integrators and cloud service providers all can offer private wireless, including on a ‘network as a service’ basis.

Private wireless networks can take the form of mini public networks built using similar modules to a public network or can be provided as an out-of-a-box solution with built-in edge computing hardware, radio access points, add-on applications and user equipment. As well as at individual industrial sites, they can be deployed for connected sites or even nationwide.

If you’ve not considered spectrum options yet, it’s worth recapping briefly that all wireless networks -including Wifi and mobile - use radio frequency spectrum for transmission. National governments have the responsibility for partitioning and providing spectrum licences limited by time and geography and for public mobile networks, spectrum has typically been allocated by auction to licensees such as communication service providers (CSPs). These spectrum bands are known as ‘licensed’ spectrum. For Wifi networks, two unlicensed spectrum bands (2.4 and 5Gz) have been defined and are being used the world-over.

Private wireless networks can operate on both licenced and unlicensed spectrum and users will need to make a choice based on their locations, requirements and budget. Most licensed spectrum is currently in the hands of CSPs who can sub lease to enterprises. But governments, with the US (CBRS spectrum) and France at the forefront, followed by Germany, UK and Japan, are increasingly releasing spectrum for businesses in their support for Industry 4.0.  In some scenarios unlicensed spectrum using MulteFire is also an option, opening up private wireless networks to small and medium size enterprises and also new scenarios like short term construction sites or any nomadic use cases, that would be challenging for licensed spectrum.

Industry 4.0 promises transformation

What is clear is that the arrival of Industry 4.0 offers exciting possibilities for every industry and application, but these simply cannot be achieved on today’s Wifi or cabled networks.

Industrial-grade private wireless networks offer organisations a new way to achieve heightened reliability with predictable performance, built-in security and essential connectivity for virtually everything. They also provide the flexibility to respond to new demands and opportunities – the very hallmark of transformation.