Home5GFive steps on the road to industrial 5G – technology / standards (#1)

Five steps on the road to industrial 5G – technology / standards (#1)

5G will only gets its wings in 2023, or thereabouts, when its full functionality is revealed in a standalone version of the new radio (NR) standard. That is when it will take flight, and change the world – or, at least, establish a control platform to transform industry.

Until then, as we have argued, 5G is essentially a bluff for consumers and a promise for enterprises, presently hinged on the evolved packet core (EPC) in existing LTE networks, and delivering megabits and milliseconds here and there, plus easier scalability and capacity.

But that is not quite true. Important groundwork by industry and government is inching the industrial market forwards already, down a road to this promised land of industrial 5G. Indeed, to mix our metaphors, Industry 4.0 is learning to fly, making controlled swoops and dives around its core operations.

Again, government and industry are making these early test flights possible. Here is how industry goes forward, in five (serialised) steps.


The first step, in process, is around the 5G NR standard itself. Work has to be done, still, to develop the technology to accommodate industrial requirements, and the industrial set is – more closely than ever – collaborating with the 3GPP, the international mobile radio standards organization, to ensure this. 

Releases 16 and 17 of the standard will drop in mid-2020 and late-2021, respectively; both will iron out technicalities around massive machine-type (mMTC) and ultra-reliable low-latency (URLLC) communications. These two 5G sub-sets combine with enhanced mobile broadband (eMBB), the go-faster LTE variant for consumer services, to make up the NR standard.

Image: Siemens

The focus on industrial IoT and URLLC, in particular, in these twin releases is key for industry, and key for 5G to be considered as anything but an evolution of LTE. The mMTC angle is important, but essentially builds on the LTE-based technologies NB-IoT and LTE-M in a linear fashion. URLLC will mark 5G out as a decisive technology for society, at large.

Release 16 applies 5G NR to industrial use cases such as factory automation and industrial mixed-reality (AR and VR) tools; it also readies URLLC for vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) connectivity and transport systems, and for electrical power distribution. As well, it will introduce time-sensitive networking (TSN), for deterministic two-way comms, and introduce intra-device prioritization and multiplexing. 

Importantly, in something of a watershed moment for 3GPP, the release also includes a work item on 5G NR-U to make the standalone version work in the unlicensed 6 GHz band. As per the below entries, the liberalization of spectrum in leading industrial nations is an essential stopping point on the road to industrial 5G. 

Release 17, coinciding with EPC upgrades to NR, will take this work further, putting additional focus on digital factories, unmanned drones, and critical healthcare. Its scope has not been precisely agreed, but work has been mooted on 5G NR-Lite (or NR-Light), to address new IoT use cases with higher data rates, lower latency, and improved reliability compared with NB-IoT and LTE-M (mMTC).

This article is continued here.

Five steps on the road to industrial 5G – technology / standards (step #1)
Five steps on the road to industrial 5G – spectrum / regulation (step #2)
Five steps on the road to industrial 5G – licences / fees (step #3)
Five steps on the road to industrial 5G – (step #4)
Five steps on the road to industrial 5G – (step #5)

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