The previous “Special Feature” looks at the potential of 5G network to transform manufacturing. The article also touched on emerging “local 5G”, which enables local businesses in rural areas to establish their own 5G connection in their factory instead of waiting for the deployment of public network. This article looks at some initiatives in Germany and Japan to promote local 5G in more details.

Local 5G initiatives in Germany

In Germany, Audi has been testing a local 5G network for vehicle production together with Ericsson since August 2018. “With the introduction of 5G in car production, we are gaining completely new possibilities for connecting machines via radio,” said Dr. Henning Löser, Head of the Audi Production Lab. “We are absolutely convinced of the potential of the new technology. That’s why we want to set up an in-house 5G network that will facilitate agile and flexible production in the future.” Audi is currently using local 5G network to collect real-time operation data of its industrial robots used in welding, but with the success of initial deployment of local 5G, they plan to expand the use of this technology in other areas. At the 2019 Hannover Messe, Audi, Ericsson and Sick demonstrated human-robot interaction in real time using a 5G network.

Earlier this year, Nokia announced they will build private LTE and 5G coverage for the ARENA2036 automotive research factory in Stuttgart, to help validate the technology in real industrial setting. ARENA2036 was established in 2014 with funding from Germany’s Federal Ministry of Research as an “active research environment for the next-generation of automobiles.” In November this year, Bosch applied for 5G operating licenses for selected German locations. Bosch said they will set up the local 5G network at its research campus in Renningen and conduct 5G trials to better exploit the potential of Industry 4.0.

Local 5G guideline in Japan

In Japan, Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications established a committee to review the options of introducing local 5G in Japan, which resulted in the release of draft local 5G guideline in September. After public comment period, the guideline was officially released in December, and the government started accepting applications for the deployment of local 5G networks from this week. Major telecommunications operators such as NTT DOCOMO will start their 5G services in Japan from next spring. In the meantime, local 5G networks will be assigned different frequencies from those of mobile carriers, and many companies such as NEC, Fujitsu, Panasonic and Toshiba have already unveiled a plan to provide local 5G services.

Local 5G initiatives in Japan

In October, KYOCERA and Fujitsu demonstrated their local 5G system in their booths at CEATEC 2019. In local 5G summit held in November 29th, Communication ministry as well as several companies presented their policies and initiatives on local 5G. NTT East and University of Tokyo announced that they will establish “local 5G open lab” in February 2020, providing a place to conduct field trial for companies and regional government considering the use of local 5G. Local 5G lab to be set up by NET at its Tamagawa office will also offer its user to experience local 5G and verify connection with their own devices. NEC Platforms, a group company of NEC specializing in development, production and sales of ICT equipment, said they will introduce local 5G first at its factories in Kohu, Japan and Thailand from 2020. KYOCERA will verify its local 5G system and devices at its factories

Further, Nokia announced in December that it is building a strategic partnership ecosystem to bring local 5G/ wireless LTE to industrial and government customers in Japan. “Our aim is to better serve the increasing needs for local 5G/private wireless LTE in Japan, which has proven its ability to provide reliable, secure, high-capacity connectivity,” said John Harrington, Head of Nokia Japan.

Smart agriculture and local 5G

Application of local 5G is being tested in farming and livestock businesses. Aging is a serious issue for agriculture in Japan where 60% of agricultural workforce is 65 or older, and 30% is 75 or more. As such, the demand for remote control in agriculture using various sensors, feeding robots and drones for watering and pesticide spraying is increasing.

In November, a field trial to test local 5G in a ranch was conducted in Hokkaido, Japan. Several 4K camera was installed in cowsheds and connected with the 5G network. The data was transmitted to the server where an ear tag of each cow was checked to monitor the location and condition of individual cow. Checking the code on ear tags attached to the moving cows or from cameras or videos installed on feeding robots require high-speed transmission of large amount of data, and local 5G network offers exactly that. At the Murakami ranch where the field trial was conducted, it is estimated that using local 5G will result in time-saving of around 30min per cowshed.

5G, local 5G and new challenges for the manufacturing sector

Germany tries to take advantage of 5G (and local 5G) to move forward industry 4.0. Meanwhile, the U.S., China and South Korea are making large investment in 5G. In particular, China is making a lot of efforts in developing IT and 5G technologies which they consider key for future manufacturing and thus important for their industrial strategy “Made in China 2025.” The 5G race is on, and so is the competition of manufacturing companies to take advantage of this technology.