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5G: A Manufacturing Game Changer

By Anca L. Sala, Ph.D., Baker College and Patricia A. Chatman, Ph.D., Henry Ford College

5G—the next generation of wireless technology—is poised to revolutionize the manufacturing sector, accelerating Industry 4.0 by enabling faster speeds and better connectivity as we enter a new decade characterized by continued, explosive growth in the number and types of smart devices and their associated connectivity needs. While mobile consumers and companies across the globe have benefitted from the reliability of the current wireless generation, 4G/4G LTE, throughout the last decade, this technology is now reaching its limits (CB Insights, 2019).

With 5G, data rates will increase 10 times, from 1 Gb/s in 4G LTE to 10 Gb/s. Latency, the time delay before data transfer, will decrease from 60 ms with 4G LTE to 1-10 ms.

5G technologies will enable the following types of services:

  • Enhanced mobile broadband (eMBB)
  • Massive machine-type communication (mMTC)
  • Ultra-reliable low-latency communications (URLLC) (5G ACIA, 2018).

The key features of 5G include:

  • High bandwidth
  • Ability to support a high volume of connected devices
  • Low latency and battery saving
  • Low energy operation

The deployment of small wireless appliances (or small cells) is necessary to deliver 5G service that is provided using high frequency, millimeter wave spectrum. Higher-frequency spectrum has far more bandwidth available and therefore can provide higher download speeds and more capacity than the lower-frequency spectrum used to provide traditional cell service. However, higher-frequency spectrum does not transmit signals as far or pass through obstacles like buildings or trees. To use millimeter wave spectrum for 5G service, small cells must be deployed relatively close to the end user receiving service. To serve an area such as a business district, small cells must be placed at intervals to form a grid, sometimes called a polygon, providing contiguous coverage sectors. Such coverage will require extensive small cell deployment. 

These characteristics make 5G a game-changer for manufacturing, increasing the efficiency and flexibility of operations and offering a ubiquitous platform to integrate all the components of Industry 4.0. 5G can enable a high number of machines, people and objects in factories to communicate large amounts of data at very fast speeds. It also enables the use of augmented reality (AR) applications in manufacturing. The very low latency down to milliseconds allows further development of high performance, demanding applications in automation and control, and autonomous vehicles.

5G technology will also introduce a novel feature called network slicing. With network slicing, multiple logical/virtual networks each with its own requirements—but running simultaneously on a common physical infrastructure—can be created. This will result in more flexibility and better security for different applications running across one or more factories.

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