Are conservative industrials coming around to 5G?
Ericsson exec discusses outlook for industrial adoption of 5G
LOS ANGELES–Ericsson’s Erik Josefsson, head of advanced industries, is a surfer, he told Enterprise IoT Insights this week during Mobile World Congress. And, as such, he analogized industrial adoption of private networking in terms of waves.
“We’ve had a couple of waves,” he explained. The first was private networks for public safety “and that has happened.” The next wave, which is lifting up the utilities sector, “is already happening.” Rolling in next, Josefsson says, will be oil and gas and mining.
And behind all of those industrial sectors, “There is a big wave that is on the rise”–5G private networks for factory and warehouse automation. But, technical issues like the massive IoT and URLLC enhancements coming in future releases of the 3GPP 5G NR standard aside, there’s a potential hindrance for vendors looking to paddle out and ride this particular wave and that is a conservative approach to major technological upgrades.
“Imagine 95% of all connections in a factory or industrial site [are] wired today,” Josefsson said. “Even the perception that you’d dare to cut those wires and go wireless is a big step.” That’s not to say Ericsson isn’t getting traction. Far from it. In fact, there are proof points in most all high-value verticals: Scania in transport, Ambra in mining, Diamler in 5G-enabled automotive manufacturing, and, in the telecom equipment manufacturing space, Ericsson itself. “We are leveraging our own supply,” as Josefsson put it.
To learn more about Ericsson’s efforts to automate its own manufacturing in the U.S., European Union and Asia Pacific region, check out this article.
“Investment-wise, it’s increasing both in the U.S. and China. It’s a race. And Europe has the fear of missing out. I see the dynamics playing partly in our favor.” Josefsson noted some hesitancy related to establishing return on investment although that’s tempered by the “cost of inaction.”
Given an already conservative investment environment coupled with a rapidly evolving technology set, Josefsson said it’s imperative to communicate to customers and potential customers the “futureproof” nature of software-upgradable products. “That’s actually one of our key value propositions. I think it’s critical that you have a futureproof technology. That’s a key differentiator.”
When thinking about futreproof investments in technology by industrial companies, Josefsson said, “If I were an industry and I had to select which wireless access technology I have do…I would put security and reliability as my top priority.”
There’s another issue in play here and this applies specifically to some of the 5G-enabled automation projects delineated above and broadly to automation in any sector. What about the people?
When looking at impediments to digital transformation, Josefsson noted, “We are the biggest potential but also sometimes the biggest limiting factor. We have to make sure people feel comfortable with transformation. The guys on the shop floor, they are not us. They want to get things working. They don’t want experiments.”
Indulging in a bit of a more philosophical discussion of technology, automation, its impacts on the workforce and how those workforce impacts translate to life, the universe and everything, Josefsson acknowledged that automation would displace workers but said humans can “constantly adapt. In all digital transformations, we think about the doom date but somehow the human being finds a new place.”
Given these far-reaching, generational repercussions of technology that’s somewhat nascent today but on a clear path to widespread adoption, is it necessarily a bad thing that conservative investment thinking and other factors aren’t driving adoption as quickly as telecoms stakeholders would like? “Maybe that is a good sanity check,” Josefsson said.