Ericsson pushes deeper into private IIoT networks with Industry Connect

Private cellular networks were a hot topic at the recent Mobile World Congress, as enterprises look to assert control over how their traffic is optimized and secured, especially as they move towards IoT applications.

Of the large vendors, Nokia has seized this opportunity most eagerly with private LTE platforms for vertical markets like mining, and with cloud-hosted packet core services. By contrast, Ericsson has pulled away from the enterprise space, saying it will only target it in partnership with telcos, not in competition with them.

However, it is stepping up its efforts to tap into the private cellular trend, even while keeping the MNOs close. Last week it talked about a partnership with Telia and Volvo to build an industrial platform, and this week, it has launched its Industry Connect offering.

This is a service to enable operators to deploy dedicated LTE networks for industrial and IoT applications. It provides them with a preconfigured toolbox of equipment and software, purpose-designed for environments like factories and warehouses. The solution prioritizes rugged equipment, predictable latency levels, security, and support for large numbers of devices and sensors. These are the chief requirements of current Industrial IoT services, says Ericsson, though as 5G emerges, the platform will gain enhanced capabilities – for instance, adding very low, rather than just predictable, latency.

Customers – whether the enterprise’s IT department or the operator – can manage the network through a cloud-hosted portal which provides an overview of all the cell  connected sites, network equipment and devices.

“Ericsson Industry Connect is built on design thinking to meet industrial customers’ requirements on speed, reliability and security, while being easy to install and manage,” said Åsa Tamsons, head of business area technologies and new businesses at Ericsson. “It complements service providers’ offerings to enterprises with a solution that is easy to scale.”

Among the use cases which Ericsson highlighted as targets for its offering are digital twin inspection of products and processes, within an Industrie 4.0 manufacturing environment – creating a real time digital replica of a physical object can require huge numbers of sensors. It also identified collaborative robots (cobots) and advanced human-machine interfaces based on mobile devices and augmented reality; as well as the inevitable remote controlled autonomous vehicles, such as forklift trucks.

“Industrie 4.0 offers tremendous opportunities for industry. Connected factories alone can generate up to $3.7 trillion a year in value by 2025 [according to estimates from McKinsey], representing the single largest opportunity for economic gain among industries,” said Zia Syed, CTO and head of product engineering of advanced industries at Ericsson, in a blog post.

The first public adopter of the solution is Swedish transport systems provider Scania, which has implemented Industry Connect in its production lab in Södertälje, Sweden.