Private 5G Networks for Enterprise IoT: Benefits and Use Cases


by Andrew Lui

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Private 5G networks are gaining momentum in the world of industrial IoT, as enterprises seek to leverage the benefits brought by 5G such as improved coverage, increased security, and reduced latency. Using 5G to build enterprise private networks also opens the doors to industrial IoT use cases and service applications that weren’t practical with legacy technology.

In this article, we will explore the benefits and use cases of private 5G networks for industrial IoT, including a comparison of private LTE and 5G NR. We will also delve into the technical details of 5G NR, including network slicing and millimeter-wave spectrum, and examine the potential cost savings associated with using private 5G networks for Industrial IoT over other network technologies.

Private Networks for Industrial IoT

What Is Industrial IoT?

The industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) is the extension of IoT in industrial sectors and applications. IIoT focuses on machine-to-machine (M2M) communication, big data, and machine learning, enabling industries to improve their efficiency and reliability. Applications such as robotics, medical devices, and software-defined production processes converge information technology and operational technology to provide greater system integration and better visibility of various aspects of the business, including the supply chain and logistics.

IIoT is crucial in the context of Industry 4.0 because it transforms production processes by utilizing big data analytics. Businesses can gather and analyze data at high speeds with the right network and services, leading to scalability, performance, and informed decision-making.

Benefits of Private Networks in Industrial IoT

Private networks for industrial IoT are complete connectivity solutions designed for use by a single organization. They provide increased security, better reliability, and more control over network performance compared to public networks. Two popular technologies used to build private networks for industrial IoT are private LTE networks and private 5G networks.

Difference between Private LTE and Private 5G

The most significant difference between private LTE and private 5G networks is their spectrums. Private LTE networks operate in the licensed spectrum, usually between 700 MHz to 2.6 GHz, and support data rates up to 1 Gbps. Meanwhile, private 5G networks operate in licensed or unlicensed spectrums, usually between 24-40 GHz (millimeter-wave spectrum), and support data rates up to 20 Gbps.

While private LTE and 5G networks both offer benefits for industrial IoT, such as increased security and better reliability, private 5G networks specifically bring improvements in terms of speed, support for a high density of devices, and very low latency. To understand the technical advantages of private 5G networks, it's important to first explore what 5G NR is and how it works.

What Is 5G NR?

Advanced Technologies for Serviceability

5G NR (5G New Radio) is the latest generation of wireless communications and is becoming the global standard for enabling high-speed and low-latency connectivity for the next generation of wireless applications. Often shortened to just 5G, the 5G NR architecture is built using two concepts that allow for more flexibility. It is built upon a service-based architecture (SBA) utilizing control and user plane separation (CUPS) to enhance the network’s modularity for better resource allocation.

5G NR makes use of advanced technologies such as millimeter-wave (mmWave) spectrum, beamforming, and network slicing to improve serviceability. Although these new technologies can benefit enterprise IoT, it is not without its drawbacks.

For example, the mmWave spectrum allows for higher data rates and greater capacity but has a shorter range and can be blocked by obstacles. Beamforming focuses the radio signal toward the receiver rather than broadcasting it in all directions but requires more computing resources and power. Network slicing allows for the creation of virtual networks that can be tailored to specific applications and use cases, ensuring the necessary performance, security, and reliability. There are still some challenges for implementing network slicing such as the interoperability of all the RAN components.

Use Cases of 5G NR

As advancements continue to develop 5G NR, it is shaping up to be a versatile and flexible technology that can support a wide range of use cases such as smart factories and connected vehicles.

Speaking of industrial IoT applications, private 5G NR includes three services, enhanced mobile broadband (eMBB), ultra-reliable low latency communication (URLLC), and massive machine-type communication (mMTC), which can lead to endless possibilities for private 5G use cases. For example:
The aim of eMBB is to provide higher bandwidth with better latency for applications such as augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR). This will be useful in applications where engineers can simulate manufacturing processes or gather real-time information about equipment performance to identify problems and conduct preventive maintenance.
URLLC will be used for mission-critical applications, which require guaranteed connectivity with ultra-low latencies. URLLC will be needed for such applications as autonomous driving to deliver or perform jobs in places that are too dangerous for people or allow machinery and robots to interact precisely based on real-time information gathered from sensors.
mMTC is used for the connection of an extremely large number of devices that are expected to be used in order to bring to life industrial IoT applications.

Comparison of 5G NR to 4G LTE

With all that being said, we can summarize the difference between 4G LTE and 5G for private networks as such. Private 5G NR provides significant improvements in terms of speed, support for high density of devices, and very low latency. For the time being, 4G LTE as the legacy technology means it will have better interoperability and supported devices than private 5G.

However, 5G development has been much faster than previous generations and has been able to follow closely in the footsteps of private LTE. This can be seen with the FCC’s release of the CBRS (band 48) in 2020.

CBRS Private LTE and 5G for Industrial IoT

CBRS Private LTE and 5G are potential solutions for Industrial IoT. The CBRS band is a 150 MHz wide broadcast band of the 3.5 GHz band available within the United States. In early 2020, the FCC released the CBRS band for commercial use for 5G mobile networks. Since 5G was not readily available during the CBRS testing period, most of the tests were performed with LTE technology. Test results showed that CBRS private LTE access points had a wider coverage than typical Wi-Fi access points making it ideal for IoT applications in warehouses and distribution centers. Compared to Wi-Fi private networks, CBRS private LTE also had the advantage of improved network segmentation for critical traffic such as those needed in manufacturing or industrial networks.

The Limitations of CBRS for Private 5G

In 2021, 5G CBRS private networks started to hit the market, but it is still too early to tell if CBRS will be a major spectrum for private 5G. Although 5G technology adopted CBRS very quickly, the limitations on the transmitted power of the CBRS spectrum restrict the useful range of private 5G networks. While that may be the case, there are still plenty of industrial sensors that will not require such a bandwidth, but can still utilize the low latency and massive connectivity service provided by 5G.

Private 5G Use Cases for Industry 4.0

Whether CBRS or C-Band, private 5G networks have been paving the way for many exciting use cases in industrial IoT. I’ve listed a few of the use cases that service providers have deployed in the past and here I’ll go a bit more in-depth for those related to industrial IoT.

Boosting manufacturing efficiency

Private 5G network has been a key driving force as the manufacturing sector makes progress toward Industry 4.0. Many applications can be built to boost manufacturing efficiency by leveraging private 5G such as using untethered robots or automated guided vehicles (AGV) to complete repetitive tasks with little downtime and fewer errors. Another application is using AI systems to monitor and run predictive maintenance while providing engineers with the capability to assist remotely using augmented reality.

An example of such applications put into action is at a Ford car manufacturing facility, where sensors are used to perform real-time quality checks such as acoustically detecting seat belt clicks to ensure they work correctly. New cars can perform over-the-air firmware updates while moving across the factory floor, streamlining the manufacturing process.

Improving safety and connectivity

The stability and reliability of 5G private networks are essential assets for building networks to be used in hazardous environments such as mines. Applications, where tele-remote operations can be used to perform tasks in risky areas, may save lives. Autonomous haul trucks, sensors to provide real-time insight into operations, and connected drones that can deliver essential supplies are all being developed for industrial mines.

At the Detour Lake Mine in Canada, an 80 square-kilometer mining operation has utilized five cellular towers to build a 5G wireless private network to improve productivity and worker safety. Along with that, they have opened the doors to developing and testing mining innovations and technologies for the future.

Cost considerations

When considering the costs of setting up a private network, it is important to not only look at the equipment, such as access points, sensors, and sim cards but also at the costs associated with their maintenance, scalability and savings it can bring after implementation. While the access points of 5G might cost more than Wi-Fi, the savings associated with 5G's wireless and wider coverage characteristics will lead to acquiring fewer access points and reduce the amount of fiber installation needed.

Additionally, significant cost savings can be generated by streamlining manufacturing, enabling AI systems, and automating quality control, making the costs of setting up a private 5G network worthwhile.

Simplifying the Private 5G Network to Maximize Benefits

At the end of the day, private 5G networks for industrial IoT can bring about many benefits and create new innovative use cases and applications, but that cannot be done without a stable private 5G infrastructure. Industrial 5G use cases often require real-time feedback for a large amount of data and will require other equipment like MEC servers and Grandmaster clocks to ensure the data is processed as fast and accurately as possible. An adequate private 5G infrastructure can also make planning out the topology of access points easier and ensure that all critical spots are covered.

UfiSpace’s private 5G network infrastructure solutions allow for simpler networks to be built with enhanced scalability for future growth. Find out more about how our robust, carrier-grade access routers and fronthaul multiplexers by connecting with us.

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