Qualcomm: Industrial 5G will start late 2019, taking its cues from consumer 5G
The industrial 5G market will benefit from the consumer 5G market, with network deployments starting in earnest in late 2019 and early 2020, as industrial devices take advantage of the muscular combination of connectivity, compute power, and security brought to bear in 5G smartphones.
This is the message from Qualcomm, on stage at Hannover Messe 2019 last month to give a view of the market’s prep-work for industrial 5G and IoT. The US chip-maker has followed its Snapdragon-based LTE/5G X50 module, powering existing 5G handsets, with a second-generation X55, compatible with standalone 5G, and pitched to the industrial set.
The incoming range of industrial-grade modules, including the X55, draw on the ever-beefier compute combinations being designed into chips for consumer 5G smartphones, it says. They incorporate higher-grade computing and graphics processing, and give rise to more sophisticated hardware-based security.
“We can reuse all of that for industrial purposes,” explains Gerardo Giaretta, senior director of product management at Qualcomm Europe. The latest 5G smartphones make a good base-design for new industrial hardware platforms – on the grounds they use “very power efficient, cost efficient, size efficient” chipsets already.
But factories and plants will have to wait for the most transformative version industrial 5G, set out in 3GPP’s Release 16 of the new 5G specs. This new incarnation, defined as ultra-reliable low-latency communications (URLLC), will only hit the market in 2021/22, he observes.
“Release 16 will bring more things, and enable more use cases – so you can use your 5G network across your factory, and not just for a few use cases. But it will take a couple more years for this.”
But industry should not wait to embrace cellular networks on their premises. The hardware – in the form of the Snapdragon 845 processor, for example (“enabling the best smartphones in the world,” says Qualcomm) – is in the bag, already, alongside the additional hardware pieces and new radios.
“We are taking the same technology, and adapting it to industrial use cases,” said Giaretta. “We make changes, of course, because the requirements are different. But it is a proven technology, which we have translated into the business of industry.”
He pans out; the cellular focus on industry is sharpening, but the consumer sector remains in the middle of the picture, momentarily. Patience, he says; the donkey-work will be done in the service of every-day punters.
“In terms of timing, 2019 is the year of 5G smartphones. We expect most operators around the world to launch 5G handsets – and more than 30 already have. Why is this important [for industrial 5G]? Because the smartpohone ecosystem will allow those of us more interested in the industrial space to mature the technology.”
Giaretta goes on: “We will start deploying 5G for industry at the end of 2019 and start of 2020, when the industry will already have 12 months’ experience of interoperability testing and network optimisation.
“Alongside, we’ll see the rollout of industrial private networks in the second half of 2019 and first half of 2020, enbabled by spectrum policies like the 3.7-3.8 GHz [band] in Germany, CBRS in the US, and many other countries going that way. That is a fundamental for small and medium industry to go forward with 5G.”
In the meantime, the line from Qualcomm is that, as the ground is laid for industrial 5G-proper, enterprises should look to advanced LTE and consumer-oriented 5G networks to develop their digital capabilities. Again, Giaretta talks us around.
“How does things change with 5G, and when do you need it? Those are the questions. And it is really application dependent. We have a lot of deployments right of private LTE in North America and other countries; there are some scenarios, like oil refineries and chemical plants, where private LTE works well – for tracking devices, some communications, transport vehicles in warehouses.
“Do you always need 5G? No, it depends on the use case. There will be some that need high bandwdith, low latency, and ultra reliability – and, therefore, demand 5G. But there are many others that will work right now with LTE.”