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5G has been advertised as a new key technology for companies. Its key characteristics, compared to 4G, are low latency and high bandwidth. The characteristics are needed in industrial use cases no other technology can handle. There are also many use cases 4G can manage but which 5G will eventually take over. This is because 5G will be everywhere in a couple of years’ time.
Stora Enso is the renewable materials company. We believe that everything that can be made with fossil-based materials today can be made from a tree tomorrow. We operate globally and we have many factories in several countries. 5G provides us new opportunities to further extend digitalization especially in safety and operations. Because 5G will be everywhere, we will use normal cellular connectivity with 5G instead of 4G. But there are many industrial use cases 4G cannot handle, and there are also new ways to implement 5G compared to 4G.
The key value promise of 5G is low latency and high bandwidth. Both are welcome in industrial use. The high bandwidth use cases you need cabling for today can be implemented wirelessly tomorrow. Multiple video feeds for operations monitoring purposes belong to this category. Sometimes video applications require low latency and fast response too. One example is machine vision applications running in cloud. The same applies to other intelligent applications using Machine Learning and Neural Networks for prediction in safety, production and maintenance. You can also standardize your wireless connectivity with 5G because it can replace your Wi-Fi. By standardizing your wireless communication, you make the maintenance of your networks easier and most probably more cost efficient.
“The technology provides attractive capabilities for companies to implement use cases not possible with other technologies”
There are also industrial use cases you cannot implement with any other technology than 5G. At Stora Enso we have identified at least three such use cases. The first one is using high density 360 video cameras for remote monitoring purposes. You can improve operational efficiency by remote monitoring instead of always sending people to check what’s wrong after an automation system has raised an alarm. Doing this requires the capabilities of turning the cameras as well as zooming to details with high resolution. The response from the cameras must be instant to maintain good user experience. The second use case is the remote control of autonomous vehicles. Autonomous vehicles operate independently most of the time but there are situations where you need to take over control from a remote-control room. One such situation is loading or unloading a vehicle. When you take over the control remotely, sub-second response is required for safe operation of the vehicle. You also need to see what is happening at the vehicle, so the previous high density 360 video feed is needed here as well. We have piloted both use cases in Stora Enso already. The third use case is indoor positioning. Today you need to build a separate Bluetooth or ultra-wideband network for the positioning. If you can use the same 5G network you are using in general and for other industrial use cases, indoor positioning becomes more attractive than before thanks to higher cost-efficiency of the overall system. Accurate indoor positioning is not yet available in 5G, but it is coming.
All this is very good from the industrial use case viewpoint but there is one major concern. Today the cellular networks are optimized for consumer use cases and this means prioritizing the downlink bandwidth over the uplink. In industrial use cases you would need wider uplink than downlink and this might cause problems when using 5G. This is something an individual communication service provider cannot change because all operators need to be in sync, otherwise the 5G network will not work at all.
There are many ways to start using 5G. If you don’t have special requirements mentioned above and you use 5G like you use 4G, then public 5G networks might be the right choice. If you are implementing those special use cases, a private 5G network is an alternative. The private network is dedicated to you and you can control everything in the network. If you are unsure about operating such a network, the 5G network vendors are providing network management services and can run the network for you. Instead of buying your own network you can also get the private network as a service from communication service providers. 5G offers features to dedicate a share of the network to a user as well. This is called a virtual private network and it is implemented by so called network slicing. The virtual private 5G network is a very interesting alternative to have your own dedicated 5G connectivity.
One can conclude that 5G will be everywhere and everyone will use 5G. The technology provides attractive capabilities for companies to implement use cases not possible with other technologies. The low latency and high bandwidth are really needed in some cases. It is also good that the equipment vendors and service providers offer alternative ways to take 5G in use so there will be the right one for different purposes. The design of 6G has already started so 5G is not the last new cellular communications technology we will see.