One of the areas of real promise for 5G is in the realm of industrial transformation and Industry 4.0 – leveraging wireless connectivity throughout enterprise, industrial, and manufacturing processes and services. The next major release of 5G from 3GPP, Release 16, is designed specifically with these industrial and enterprise use cases in mind.
The standards for Release 16 are expected to be complete by the summer of 2020, which implies that associated network features will start to deploy commercially in early 2021. The release includes features related to ultra-reliable low-latency communication, which becomes particularly important in industrial machine-to-machine communications. Release 16 begins to deliver the full promise of 5G, based on the combination of the new 5G radio and core network technologies (often referred to as the ‘standalone’ 5G network architecture) which were introduced in Release 15. It unlocks capabilities such as network slicing, where the operator can define end-to-end network ‘slices’ tailored to a customer’s specific requirements; and multi-access edge computing, which brings low-latency access to edge-located applications, in which the data is processed at the edge of the network, adjacent to where it is generated.
"Release 16 begins to deliver the full promise of 5G, based on the combination of the new 5G radio and core network technologies (often referred to as the ‘standalone’ 5G network architecture) which were introduced in Release 15."
This doesn’t mean earlier 5G releases don’t have capabilities for enterprises and industry. The significantly faster broadband, increased network capacity, lower latency, and higher reliability that come with the earlier 5G releases also offer benefits to enterprise and industrial customers. But Release 16 further enhances such capabilities, as well as enabling some unique use cases.
Unique use cases for 5G
Many 5G use cases are also 4G/LTE use cases that can simply be done much better in 5G because of 5G’s extra spectrum and capacity. For example, a 4G/LTE-based railway-station solution might work beautifully until hundreds of customers throng the station during peak traffic times, and the 4G/LTE capacity in that zone is maxed out. A similar ‘traffic jam’ issue applies to fixed wireless access (FWA) delivering immersive applications like AR/VR and telepresence to wirelessly connected homes and small businesses, especially in dense urban areas. 5G delivers the speed and capacity needed to support the high traffic volumes these use cases require.
Other use cases take advantage of completely new 5G capabilities.
Cloud-based gaming is a consumer-focused use case that takes advantage of both the low latency as well as high throughput available already in early 5G networks.
High-end gaming typically relies on expensive gaming consoles, on which the intense computing functions for the games run. But there is a large population of potential gamers who cannot or do not want to spend the kind of money such consoles demand.
With cloud-based gaming, the intense computing functions run in the cloud, and the ‘console’ can be just about any smartphone. 5G enables both the high throughput needed for the advanced graphics – in the range of 20Mbps – and the really low latency that evens the playing field when people are playing against each other, essentially making cloud-based games playable. In addition, multi-access edge computing capabilities, which basically bring the game closer to the user, ensure even lower latency and lag. This is seen to offer a huge business opportunity in certain markets. 5G is designed to enable end-to-end latencies far below what humans can perceive (e.g. the sub-50 milliseconds expected for cloud gaming) down to the tightest latencies required for critical industrial processes (which may for example need to react within a single millisecond).
"With cloud-based gaming, the intense computing functions run in the cloud, and the ‘console’ can be just about any smartphone."
Another use case for multi-access edge computing is in public safety and security, for instance at an event venue that uses facial recognition applications. 5G is the first system with the capability for distributed computing built right into its design, and this capability extends across the core and radio network domains. In this case, the ability to restrict the processing of application data to secure, local servers at the edge of the network ensures the privacy and security of data collected at an event.
Along with increased capacity, 5G also brings significantly increased uplink capability. This enables, for example, the fast upload of ultra-high-definition video, which is beneficial to a number of applications, including live broadcasting over 5G. But one of the more valuable uses for uplinked high-definition video is video analytics. The use cases for this range from safety, security, and surveillance to efficiency and productivity applications, for example, monitoring and reporting factory-line anomalies in real time. Cameras can be fixed, or mounted to drones, robots, or even body cams for event and premises security applications.
"Along with increased capacity, 5G also brings significantly increased uplink capability. This enables, for example, the fast upload of ultra-high-definition video, which is beneficial to a number of applications, including live broadcasting over 5G."
On the industrial and enterprise side, 5G is seen as a much more promising fit for industrial processes than either 4G/LTE or Wi-Fi. 5G is not intended to replace Wi-Fi, which remains relevant in a number of enterprise applications. However, while Wi-Fi can deliver some of the speed and capacity needed for industrial use cases, it is often seen as not offering the necessary level of reliability. With 5G, the radio resource management, security, low latency, and reliability that are built into the technology make it possible to truly enable many industrial transformation processes.
Considering what we have just discussed it is clear that 5G networks need to provide, and sometime guarantee the different connectivity needs specific to each use case; e.g. in terms of priority, throughput, latency, availability, and reliability. This is especially true for industrial and enterprise services, which are typically provided within the constraints of strict service level agreements. For this reason, 5G network slicing is widely anticipated to become one of the most powerful utensils in an operator’s toolkit.
By using network slicing an operator will be able to create multiple virtual network ‘slices’ within the same 5G network, with each being prioritized and tuned according to the precise needs of the service and/or end-customer served. These slices are defined in an end-to-end manner, across all parts of the network, and can be set up and adjusted dynamically, as needed. So, for example, the operator would be able to create separate concurrent slices in its 5G network to support efficiently and effectively the separate needs of public safety services, critical industrial processes, premium consumer services and general mobile broadband services.
Where is the money?
Remote surgery is an area that is often highlighted to advertise the potential of 5G. And it’s a great use case for demonstrating what can be done with 5G on a technology level, given that 5G is designed to support the low latency and ultra-high reliability needed to accomplish it. But there does arise the question of whether there really is a business case for doing 5G remote surgery, particularly from an operator’s perspective. Where 5G is likely to have more impact in the healthcare space is in enabling remote diagnostics, bringing healthcare services to remote and underserved locations (medical deserts), and emergency services in ambulances and hospitals.
"But there does arise the question of whether there really is a business case for doing 5G remote surgery, particularly from an operator’s perspective."
Similarly, autonomous vehicles are unlikely to need 5G for basic operation, but 5G will be able to offer significant value in enabling additional safety and traffic efficiency benefits to autonomous and semi-autonomous vehicles – enabling vehicles to communicate with roadside infrastructure, other vehicles, and support operations (collectively known as V2X (vehicle-to-everything) applications). 5G is also a strong candidate to enable remote fallback for autonomous vehicles – enabling remote control from a support center when there are issues or problems with the vehicle’s autonomous system.
Looking beyond connectivity to value propositions
A lot of industries and enterprises have an interest in 5G. Some of the really big players – large car manufacturers and factories, for example – have already worked out what 5G can provide for them, and already have relatively solid plans for implementing 5G. But most enterprises and industries need to understand more about it from both a technology and business value perspective.
At the same time, every industry and enterprise is different – the wireless connectivity needs of a mining operation are different from those for an automotive production line, or a factory, or a smart city solution. The needs of these verticals are constantly evolving, and the operators, as well as other key stakeholders, need to learn more about each vertical’s unique needs.
It’s all about finding the real business value in the use cases for 5G. For most of these solutions, the value proposition is about much more than connectivity. Together, operators, enterprises, and third-party technology partners need to explore the business cases and real value-adds for 5G in different situations.
Really, the questions we should be asking about 5G use cases are: What is the business case? What is the value added? Where is the money? And does it make business sense?
- Part 1: The truths and myths of 5G deployment – a technical perspective
- Part 2: 5G – Exploring the business value