In September 2019, FANUC, Hitachi, Ltd. and NTT DOCOMO announced that they would start a joint study for assessing the advantages of using the 5G network in an industrial environment. The three companies will verity 5G connectivity and wireless control with industrial equipment such as CNC devices, robots, machine tools, and sensors, etc. in the factory at FANUC’s headquarters. The joint study will be carried out up until the summer of 2021 with the goal of making the factory network completely wireless as well as improving productivity. Also in September, OMRON, NTT DOCOMO and Nokia also announced that they would conduct joint field trials using 5G at their plants in addition to OMRON’s production site. The trial will leverage 5G connectivity for real-time coaching using AI. Inexperienced machine operators will be monitored using cameras, with an AI-based system providing real-time feedback on their performance based on an analysis of their movements. This will help improve the workers’ productivities by detecting and analyzing the differences of motion between more skilled and less skilled personnel. A wireless network also makes it easier to change the layout within a factory. In addition, DMG Mori Seiki and KDDI announced that they would establish a base station for the 5G network at their Iga office and start a field trial of the 5G network. They will connect some 150 devices at their Iga office to test maintenance, management, and remote control based on the 5G network. As above, a number of joint efforts between manufacturers and mobile operators to test the applications of the 5G network have already been underway in Japan as the 5G network is scheduled to be officially launched in spring 2020.
Advantages of 5G
The “G” in 5G refers to “Generation” and each generation is described by certain network standards. The first generation – 1G – is the very first technology behind the analog cell phone when it emerged in the late 70s. In Japan, it was used in car phones when it became popular in the 80s. Since then, each new generation has brought new features and technological advances. Today, 4G is the standard of the world mobile network. This technology has brought about high speed, high capacity, and enhanced security without compromise. Together with wireless LAN and Bluetooth, the technology connects a landline and a mobile network seamlessly.
And 5G is an advanced wireless technology that began deployment in 2019. 4 million Koreans had 5G phones as of October 2019, with 5 million expected by the end of the year. The 5G network will be rolled out in Japan in the spring of 2020. With speeds of up to 100 gigabits per second, 5G is set to be as much as 100 times faster than 4G, but 5G has many more advantages in addition to its speed.
5G also offers connection at high reliability with low latency to multiple users simultaneously. Compared with 4G, significantly more devices can be connected to the same base station at the same time. Using 5G, around 100 devices and sensors can be connected at the same time, and, thus, 5G can be used in a variety of settings. For example, factory operators can monitor the locations and conditions of products in the warehouse real-time, or the health conditions of evacuees from natural disasters can be monitored remotely by giving a wearable device to them.
Low latency means that the delay in communication (time lag) is extremely small. This feature is particularly useful for applications in both of the healthcare and automobile industries. In healthcare, AR-based training has become smoother thanks to the seamless connection. Doctors may also be able to conduct surgery remotely by controlling a robot’s arms. In the meantime, VR also provides a calm and relaxing environment to patients. 5G network connections will also have a major influence on the development of self-driving cars. A high-speed, high capacity and low latency 5G network will allow for cars to do this while gathering information from other cars, pedestrians and traffic lights along the way. It will also play a critical role in managing the safety challenges that come with vehicle automation and autonomy. 5G will become a platform of IoT, or a new communication tool in a world where everything is connected. In the age of IoT, the role of 5G is, therefore, very important. New capabilities handling large amounts of data reliably and without delays will enable arrays of new applications and services. In Japan, the 5G Mobile Communication Promotion Forum (5GMF) was established in 2014 to conduct research & development of 5G as well as research and study pertaining to its standardization.
Application of 5G in the manufacturing sector
5G can bring significant benefits to the manufacturing sector. 5G offers manufacturers and telecom operators the chance to build smart factories and truly take advantage of technologies such as automation, AI, AR for troubleshooting, and IIoT. Low latency and high reliability are needed to support critical applications in manufacturing. A high bandwidth and the connection density secure ubiquitous connectivity. Due to these requirements, manufacturers currently rely on fixed-line networks, but 5G allows factory operators to go wireless without compromising these requirements. This will allow for higher flexibility, lower cost, and shorter lead times for factory floor production reconfigurations, layout changes, and alterations. As the amount of data transmitted wirelessly increases (e.g. AI-based machine vision), the benefits of 5G is particularly significant.
In the above-mentioned field trial by FANUC, Hitachi, Ltd. and NTT DOCOMO, the three companies are testing 5G connection with machine tools and robots in their factory, and, in the future, they seek to develop a “small factory solution” by combining FANUC’s FIELD system, an open platform for manufacturers, and 5G.
Challenges of using 5G in the manufacturing sector
Having said that, various challenges still remain prior to the rolling out of 5G in the manufacturing sector. 5G will be launched next spring in Japan, but the deployment of the network will start from urban areas. It may take time before the network will be available in rural areas where many of the factories are located. The government is aware of this issue and, in response to this, is paving the way for using 5G network locally in a limited area. This week, the government started accepting applications for licenses to operate “local 5G” services, allowing local governments and firms to build their own networks in rural areas where the construction of base stations by major telecom carriers will be delayed.
One of the advantages of using local 5G is its security because the local 5G network is isolated from the open network. Also, a business can establish a network wherever they want without waiting for the service from a mobile operator. In Germany, the “5G Alliance for Connected Industries and Automation” (5G-ACIA) was established in April 2018, with the goal of successfully establishing 5G in industrial production, and a number of initiatives, including local 5G, are underway to promote the adoption of 5G in the manufacturing sector. In the U.S., several legislations have been passed to accelerate the development of 5G wireless technology, including RAY BAUM’S Act and MOBILE NOW ACT. Harbor Research of the U.S., says that the local 5G market could reach US$356 billion by 2028.
In the meantime, Accenture’s survey of more than 1,800 executives from mid-sized and large businesses across industries in 10 countries (Japan, the U.S., the UK, Spain, Germany, France, Italy, Singapore, UAE and Australia) found that 72% of executives said they need help imagining the future possibilities and use cases of 5G. While the commercial service of 5G has already started in several countries including South Korea and the U.S., there is a need to fill the information and knowledge gap to foster the adoption of (local) 5G and make the maximum benefits from it.