The latest cellular standards are essential to the deployment of “smart factories” including advancements in safety, security, productivity and environmental efficiency.
We have already written about the benefits of global open standards including cellular standards for best-in-class cellular telephony, connected vehicles, health care and sustainability applications. This article describes some of the ways that the same open standards, including 3GPP standards, are driving investments in smart factories.
First, what makes a factory smart and why do people want them?
What’s a smart factory?
For starters, by “factory” we mean not only industrial manufacturing sites, but also industrial infrastructure sites including ports, airports, energy production sites, energy transmission networks, train stations and rail networks. These are often critical industrial or public infrastructure sites and networks whose owners regularly invest in new technology in order to make them as safe, secure, efficient and environmentally responsible as possible. That includes digital monitoring equipment, private communications networks and industrial automation including robots.
The problem is, technologies such as 4G and Wi-Fi weren’t really designed with critical infrastructures in mind. They aren’t really fast, reliable, robust and secure enough for governments and large industrial users. This is especially true with respect to the growing risks related to cybercrime and climate change. Strict rules on energy efficiency and CO2 emissions will require something better in order to meet the increasing expectations of staff, shareholders, governments and society as a whole.. Moreover, 4G and Wi-Fi often get overloaded, not having been designed for high connection densities such as those that might be found in a factory, where hundreds of devices can be connected to the same network simultaneously.
Enter 3GPP, a global initiative that unites seven telecommunications standard development organisations. The 5G cellular standard currently being rolled out globally is actually version 15 of a standard developed by the 3GPP partnership. It defines all the technical protocols and network interfaces that enable communication between different cellular networks and the thousands of new connected devices known as the Internet of Things.
The 5G standard enables smarter factories
Crucially, the 3GPP or 5G standard, which includes innovations protected by standard-essential patents, allows much faster data transmission speeds, extremely high reliability, low latency, 500 times more connected devices on the same network, precise positioning and more flexible network operations, for example for ubiquitous coverage.
That means that governments and industrial users which before wouldn’t have entrusted critical facilities to older communications standards now finally have a reason to upgrade. For example, they can invest in equipment that enables increased automation, higher throughput, real-time monitoring, data-intensive augmented and virtual reality tools and increased productivity—safe in the knowledge that the technology will be highly secure and reliable.
An industrial site owner can either create their own non-public 5G network or work with a local network operator to set up a private network that interacts seamlessly with existing public networks and future cellular vehicle-to-everything (C-V2X) technology.
Early adopters see big efficiency gains, reduced environmental impact
Companies which have already deployed 5G cellular technology in non-public networks have reported sometimes dramatic improvements in efficiency and dramatic reductions in environmental impact. Nokia, for example, says production at its Oulu smart factory in Finland increased by 250% without any increase in energy or resource requirements. That’s equivalent to a 70% reduction in CO2 emissions per product produced. Ericsson says its $100 million, 5G-enabled factory in Lewisville, Texas, is 25% more efficient than its benchmark.
Those are the sorts of efficiency improvements Europe will need to see in order to meet its ambitious goal of being CO2-neutral by the year 2050.
Proposed EU SEPs regulation would be an own goal
IP Europe opposes the European Commission’s proposal to regulate standard-essential patents. The proposed regulation would undermine incentives for private companies and research organisations to invest in the further development of new innovations for the next generation of cellular technology standards—and their corresponding economic, societal and environmental benefits. And that would be an own goal for Europe.