Mobile wireless network standards, starting with 1G, have been shaping our mobile communication for years. While previous developments have focused on improved usability in the public sector, the new 5th generation standard (5G) is all about the benefits and potential applications in many different industries. Essentially, it deals with greater bandwidth, improved reliability, lower latencies and a greater number of connected devices. Siemens has therefore committed itself to this new communication standard from the outset and is supporting standardisation and industrial implementation.
Everyone is talking about 5G and industry is, above all, anticipating many benefits and future-oriented potential from the new mobile network standard. However, this development has not simply ‘dropped in industry’s lap’. In fact, the 2G to 4G mobile phone generations have already had a significant impact on industrial progress. For example, 2G enabled RTUs to send text messages and 3G provided remote access, e. g. for remote maintenance. 4G finally allowed high-performance remote mobile access to plants. 5G will provide substantial increases in bandwidths and network reliability and delays will drop to almost zero. The 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP) which, amongst other things, is responsible for global standardisation of mobile networks, created a vision for 5G which has three key scenarios. The first, enhanced Mobile Broadband (eMBB), covers improvements in bandwidth compared to 4G. The main objective is the realisation of data-driven applications which require high data rates with global, large-scale network coverage. A typical example is the growing need for HD high-quality streaming of music and videos on mobile devices such as smartphones. It is also possible to envisage augmented-reality applications for industry which would support field engineers.
The second scenario, Ultra-Reliable Low-Latency Communication (URLLC), offers high reliability and low latency for demanding industrial applications. Typically, this includes mobile robots, autonomous logistics, driverless transport systems (DTS), or even safety applications.
The third scenario, massive Machine-Type Communication (mMTC), focuses on connecting a large number of devices in a small space. In practice, this frequently means applications for the IIoT, where a unit area typically has a high device density. The devices continuously send or receive the data but over longer intervals so that only an extremely low bandwidth is utilised. Another example could be the process industry where many sensors are installed (e.g. for temperature, pressure, flow) to support process monitoring in a plant.
Step-by-step to the new standard
Despite all the euphoria, it is worth remembering that not all 5G functionalities will be available immediately. In fact, a sequence of releases already exists with, for example, Release 15, with the focus on eMBB, being adopted in 2019. Releases 16 and 17 will support the two remaining scenarios and have more relevance for industrial applications.
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