“Industry needs both public and private networks,” says Deutsche Telekom
The operator community has been widely criticised for its failure to serve industrial markets with high quality connectivity, acknowledged Deutsche Telekom at Hannover Messe 2019.
The German operator has addressed these complaints, and the industrial sector’s move to deploy private networks outside of operators’ spectrum holdings and coverage reach, by offering a combination of public and private networks running in its own spectrum.
Speaking a 5G Arena presentation, Antje Williams, executive programme manager for 5G at Deutsche Telekom, said LTE ‘campus’ networks, delivered by operators and configured correctly, can serve most industrial use cases, despite the clamour for 5G.
Deutsche Telekom has already rolled out campus networks for manufacturer Osram, at its plant in Schwabmünchen. It is also trialling them with German firms BorgWarner and ZF, and at the RWTH Aachen University.
“We have a huge divide at the moment in the industry, in the country, [about] how operators can serve industries best. There are lots of complaints about how operators have served industry so far, which has probably something to do with the fact our networks are consumer centric,” said Williams.
“But we don’t believe they should be like that in the future. As operators, we want to embrace our industry partners to serve them in the right way.”
Campus comes from the world ‘field’ in latin, she pointed out. “It is just a term to describe a restricted area – the opposite of a network covering a whole country. It describes what we can do for industries,” she said.
The manufacturing and logistics industries are asking “loudest” for 5G, according to Williams. She noted how production cycles in manufacturing are reducing dramatically, and the drive for digital change is mounting.
In many cases, connectivity in factories and warehouses is severely lacking. Deutsche Telekom is being asked by customers to solve these basic needs, she said, in order to modernise and better grasp the new dynamism of industrial supply-and-demand.
“LTE can help in lots of cases. LTE provides embedded mobility, which is crucial when you want to move robots around, and not be required to reconnect them between Wi-Fi access points.” Indeed, the manufacturing industry is already reaching the limits of IoT ‘sensorisation’ with existing Wi-Fi networks. “You can connect more sensors with LTE, and you can steer them.”
The point is LTE is able to serve many industrial IoT use cases already. The cases of automated guided vehicles (AGVs) and augmented reality (AR) were mentioned, briefly, in evidence.
Deutsche Telekom is proposing its public network, densified and optimised locally for industry, can be combined with its own private networks, in the same licensed spectrum. It has been doing the first aspect anyway; the addition of a dedicated network is new.
“Customers need both. They need a public layer, but they need a private one too, because customers want to keep their data [on site]. We would like to offer both. And we have started that, based on LTE, and going into 5G,” she said. This so-called ‘campus’ network can be divided up, she said, much like with 5G slicing – to “make sure robots know which part to dial into, and when to dial into the private network.”
Deutsche Telekom is offering Nokia’s network-in-a-box private LTE solution for the dedicated network layer. “The rest of the traffic which does not require that the data stays on site, and is not sensitive, can go over the public network.”
She said at the same time, echoing a message repeated across the fairgrounds about the digitalisation of industry, that every party is still in fact-finding mode, and that the solution will develop through trial and collaboration. “We understand our knowledge about industry is limited. We need to learn best solution for customers,” she said.
The move to 5G will bring “more quality to the game”, she said. “But the general picture remains the same. The general picture is that industry needs a public network and a private network. We want to serve you on both.”
At the same time, she suggested certain 5G characteristics, notably positioning, are more “interesting” for industrial customers, than for the consumer market. 5G positioning gets to within a metre, she said – a significant advance on LTE antenna triangulation. Anything close to this kind of accuracy with LTE would require a lot of additional infrastructure, in the way of more closely deployed antennas. “It is a question of economics.”
The kinds of advances in latency that will be achievable with 5G achieves, to near 1ms, are in fact of limited value, she suggested; the consistency of the latency, for jitter-free communications, is more powerful for control functions in industry. Deutsche Telekom also made the case that industrial companies will be able, through its campus network designs, to operate in a wider variety of frequencies to support a wider variety of use cases.
But the sector will continue to be served by a combination of technologies, even in the 5G era, including much-maligned Wi-Fi, Bluetooth Low Energy, Ethernet, and cellular low-power technologies LTE-M and NB-IoT.
The Osram deployment, as per the campus network model, combines a public and a private LTE network on one common infrastructure to bring optimal indoor and outdoor coverage. Deutsche Telekom has constructed a local edge cloud, as well, to shift complex computing processes from the remote data centre to a computer on the shop floor.