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8 November 2022

We should not write off industrial 5G because its benefits are incremental so far

Special Report: Industrial 5G

 

It is interesting to hear a senior research executive from Bosch expressing “disillusionment” with 5G for industrial applications, as we report in this edition. This is because Germany’s Bosch has been one of the most active in promoting and driving 5G as a vehicle for Industry 4.0, since the pre-commercial days when many R&D projects and government initiatives were firmly focused on 5G’s potential to drive enterprise and industrial transformation, and so have a socio-economic impact that would go far beyond that of previous mobile connectivity generations.

Yet now it seems that this cheerleader for industrial 5G is disappointed, and is looking eagerly ahead to 5G-Advanced and even 6G to support its objectives. Speaking at last week’s Brooklyn 6G Summit, Andreas Mueller, head of communication and network technology in the Bosch corporate research department, said there had been “inflated expectations” and in reality, industrial 5G would take far longer to mature than many had hoped.

Of course, a professional research leader, speaking at a 6G-focused event, will inevitably have a future-looking agenda, one that wants to gather backing for a new generation of use cases, rather than celebrating even the limited gains of the current technologies. But his words do highlight a debate that is becoming foundational to next generation strategies for mobile network deployers, suppliers and users.

Has 5G failed in its aim of being a platform as optimized for industrial digitalization as for consumer broadband applications? And if it has failed so far, can industrial 5G be rescued by the upcoming 5G-Advanced releases, as Mueller suggested, or will such gains be too incremental, driving enterprise, 5G and cloud stakeholders to accelerate work on something dramatically different, that may or may not be called ‘6G’?

The answer that different players give will depend on their specific goals, and their commercial agendas. But industry will not be well-served by giving up too quickly on 5G. The benefits may be slower and harder to achieve than many hoped, but even incremental gains can make a significant difference to certain sectors and use cases, as well as building a valuable base of expertise, knowledge, tests and trials, and developers.

This issue also focuses on two examples, in very different enterprise environments – advanced smart factories for automotive, and agriculture. Despite their differences, both rely on capabilities that are starting to be implemented in 5G enterprise systems, with the foundations laid in Releases 16 and 17, even if the technologies will not deliver their full potential until there is progress towards 5G-Advanced.

For instance, ultra-accurate positioning is starting to point to revolutionary change in the precision and effectiveness of robotics and other automated factory systems, as highlighted in a new trial by BMW with Vodafone and Nokia. But autonomous vehicles and robotics, requiring ultra-low latency, are equally important in the far wider spaces of agriculture, and the UK’s Robotics Highways project is the latest that points to a commercial impact on the agricultural sector that could be almost as great as on the far higher-profile manufacturing base.