UK early adopters embrace power of 5G in the next industrial revolution
Businesses including Ford and Centrica have been exploring the benefits of 5G for productivity and cost efficiency. Some 70% of UK network operators see the manufacturing sector as a critical driver for 5G uptake with its potential to speed up data processing and automation.
Evolutionary and revolutionary
Currently 5G is in the proof of concept stage when it comes to applications in industry. At Ford's electric car plant in Dunton, Essex a government backed 5G installation is being used to capture and share 500,000 pieces of data every minute as part of the battery welding process.
A similar network is currently in use by Centrica in their gas leak alert system. In the port of Felixstowe crane operators can work remotely thanks to 5G technology. Ericsson who have filled the gap left by the exclusion of Huawei from the UK's 5G rollout are deploying a similar network at the Worcester Bosch factory in Worcestershire.
Other advanced use cases of 5G in industry include enhanced biometric security, automated guiding vehicles and simulated tasks using VR.
Private and public networks
While coronavirus has played a part in delaying the 5G rollout in the UK, the private sector is using private and semi-private networks that are dedicated setups with core and radio access capability.
Businesses can licence a spectrum via Ofcom and start a tender for trial in partnership with one of the UK's 5G providers. Because the operator is offering a slice of their public network these are defined as semi-private networks. On average a business will scale up their 5G tests to full viability over an 18 month to 2 year period.
These trials are gaining traction and more businesses are lining up to deploy 5G in their sector. BT is already working with a dozen partners in the industrial sector to create dedicated networks. These new deployments are expected to come on stream between March and April and will be vendor agnostic with an increasing focus on disruptive open radio access network operators or O-Ran.
Open Ran creates new opportunities
O-Ran firms tend to be smaller and more agile than the headline 5G operators, focusing on equipment that can co-exist with hardware and software developed by their rivals. This is a move away from closed architecture systems tied into one proprietary supplier.
Meanwhile European operators Nokia and Ericsson are promoting the cost efficiencies of their 5G architecture, with one German car maker reporting that their 5G investment would pay off tenfold. Better inventory management and robotics are key drivers for 5G adoption. A total of 71% of businesses cite factory automation as the enterprise use case that would persuade them to adopt 5G technology.
Nokia is currently conducting proof of concept 5G trials with their UK clients in the automotive, food and beverage sectors. The Finnish company has calculated that using 5G to power automated vehicles can lead to an 18% reduction in accidents, a 30% increase in capacity and a 40% drop in late deliveries.
While uptake is currently slow, the results from the early adopters are sure to encourage rapid adoption across diverse manufacturing sectors.