Siemens joins Ericsson-led UK industrial 5G accelerator, declares private 5G the only way
Siemens has joined an industrial 5G accelerator programme as part of a collaboration between Ericsson and UK innovation agency Digital Catapult. US data storage company Seagate and UK robotics specialist Tharsus are also on board. The work is geared around private 5G setups; the companies engaged in the project, which will include UK operators, said local private networks are the only way to deliver on the promise of 5G-powered industrial IoT.
The sentiment echoes a recent statement by BT, which owns EE, the UK’s biggest mobile network, and is engaged as lead tech partner in the parallel UK government-funded Worcestershire 5G Testbed (W5G), billed as the UK’s first live private 5G network. Ericsson is supplying the 5G infrastructure for this project too, at a Worcester Bosch factory and the Malvern Hills Science Park. BT said “private 5G” is the only way to deliver flexible and smart manufacturing.
The trio combining in the new Digital Catapult experiment will develop industrial 5G use cases to prove the value of 5G in Industry 4.0 operations, they said, and as a driver for economic growth after the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Digital Catapult said “selected” UK mobile network operators will also be engaged; there is no mention of whether BT will be one of those involved.
The Digital Catapult initiative will focus variously on industrial 5G use cases around private networking for augmented and virtual reality (AR and VR) in production, camera-equipped robots to roam factory floors and run checks on machines and production lines, and the roll-out of autonomous vehicles to transport factory staff and equipment.
These work items will be led by Siemens, Tharsus, and Seagate, respectively, in collaboration with Ericsson in each case. Robotics and AR technologies will feature throughout the setups; condition monitoring, asset tracking, and predictive maintenance applications will also be used consistently, as well.Digital Catapult said the new accelerator represents a “bespoke, challenge-led programme, designed to accelerate the adoption of 5G within UK industries”.
The smart manufacturing market is set to grow to $1 trillion, according to ABI Research, with 4.3 billion wireless connections predicted by 2030. UK warehouse operators stand to realize a 13 percent increase in their gross profit margins and operational cost savings of $220.9 million over five years if they implement Industry 4.0 technologies on private 5G networks, according to the release.
Iain Thornhill, vice president of service providers and IoT at Ericsson in the UK and Ireland, commented: “Technology has a vital role to play as the world recovers from COVID-19 and 5G presents a great opportunity for the UK to boost businesses, transform its enterprise sector, and build a world leading digital economy. We are providing business critical industries with highly reliable, scalable and easy to deploy connectivity solutions, helping to accelerate 5G adoption across the country and position the UK as a leading 5G nation.”
Jeremy Silver, chief executive, Digital Catapult, said: “We want to ensure that the best aspects of technology adoption continue post-pandemic and drive new value into our economy. Collaboration remains fundamental to successfully achieving this, and with the addition of these three leading industrial businesses, the industrial 5G accelerator is in prime position to capitalise on the best of UK manufacturing skills and innovation.”
He added: “The road to embedding 5G fully into an industrial environment might be a long one, but this project is a big leap forward in terms of demonstrating the transformative capability of 5G for UK industry.”
Ian Poulett, business manager for industrial communications within Siemens’s digital industries division, said: “With [UK regulator] Ofcom creating opportunities with its shared spectrum initiative for local use this enables a wide range of sectors to use wireless connectivity to benefit their business and customers. Only with local private networks will the maximum benefit be achieved. That’s why Siemens is embracing this new communication standard right from the start and is supporting its standardisation and industrial implementation by developing a corresponding portfolio.”
Dave Swan, chief technology officer at Tharsus, said: “We can experiment and test [private industrial 5G] so we become experienced in what makes a good or a poor potential use case for 5G. This will allow to be confident that when a great use case project presents, we and our widened network will deliver.”
In Germany, which has pioneered spectrum liberalisation for industry in Europe, 74 national enterprises have so far applied for ‘vertical’ 5G spectrum to run their own cellular networks. This is an advance on the 67 licences Enterprise IoT Insights reported last month. The likes of Bosch, Siemens, Lufthansa, and BMW have piled in.
In the UK, Ofcom has released a tranche of spectrum at 3.8-4.2 GHz for local deployments, requiring national operators to hand over unused licensed spectrum to enterprises; plus the lower 26 GHz band will be reserved for private and shared access as well.
In France, frequencies in the 2.6 GHz band have been offered to metropolitan businesses by regulator ARCEP. Paris airport operator ADP has a 10-year licence; so does Air France, by extension, and electric company EDF, separately. SNCF and Airbus are in discussions, by all accounts. The Netherlands has set aside spectrum at 3.4-3.45 GHz and 3.75-3.8 GHz; Sweden has done the same at 3.72-3.8 GHz.
There is some debate, perhaps exaggerated, about the role of traditional operators in all of this, and whether they will be shut out of the industrial space — and potentially of their own transformation with 5G, to go beyond their current function as a straight bit-pipe utility service.
Dean Bubley, at Disruptive Analysis, put it best in Enterprise IoT Insights’ last in-depth look at this developing industrial 5G dynamic, as far as the industrial intrigue for the operator set goes. “Mobile operators can’t do proper 5G slicing yet, at industrial scale, as they have also had to wait for Release 16. Also, what capacity do they really have for custom builds? Can an operator do 10, 50, 100 projects a year, if each one is ‘special’? What happens if 1,000 companies want one? ‘Take a ticket and take a seat’. Expected wait time: 15 years.”
But Ericsson has maintained a more discipline (PR) line, compared notably with Nokia, about its engagement with carriers in the delivery of private networks to industrial operatives, and the new Digital Catapult project appears, again, to roll them into the bargain.