Siemens to bundle radio, core, devices into full 5G system for ‘blue collar’ Industry 4.0
Siemens has said it will provide an entire industrial 5G ‘system’ for private cellular networks in industry, covering the radio access network, core network, and compatible end-devices. It said industrial automation specialists are best to “take care of” the new 5G requirements from industry, and not traditional telecoms players. But the Munich-based firm is playing the long game, and said its solution will be ready in time for the Industry 4.0 surge with industrial 5G-proper, likely after 2022.
Reading between the lines, and without clear word from Siemens, it appears likely it will launch a commercial 5G solution for private industrial deployments in 2022, possibly in time for next year’s Hannover Messe trade fair, Germany’s major industrial trade fair, following trials of a prototype system through the remainder of 2021, starting at this year’s Hannover Messe event, next month.
Speaking with Enterprise IoT Insights, Sander Rotmensen, director industrial wireless communication for the firm’s digital industries business, compared Siemens’ approach with 5G to its long-time provision of networking technologies and networking devices for industrial sectors. “The difference with 5G is we want to provide the full ecosystem for industry – from the core network down to the user equipment, including the RAN as well,” he said.
“We want to bring all of that to our customers. Because they don’t want to look at different bits and bytes to create a solution; they don’t want to set up a network, and then a PLC, and then figure out which vendor to use for I/O. It all needs to be integrated in an ecosystem of things that evolve around, and with, each other. That is what we want to deliver, and combine with our industrial automation systems.”
He added: “That is the goal, for some time in the future. We will develop the full ecosystem ourselves – everything will be from Siemens. We believe 5G for industry is something we need to take care of.” The firm announced a new 5G industrial router, the SCALANCE MUM856-1 late last year, and will showcase the product, alongside its new VPN platform manager, SINEMA Remote Connect, at Hannover Messe next month.
Siemens claims the new router is the first to work with industrial 5G networks (although the likes of MultiTech claim the same of their own products); its new open VPN platform manager also brings 5G support for industrial devices, and affords backwards compatibility with 3G and 4G-LTE. But the firm is also to pull back the covers on a prototype of its 5G system at the Hanover fair, which has been forced online for a second year because of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Siemens has installed the 5G system in Hall 9 at the venue, as part of a wider private 5G rollout by Deutsche Messe, the show organiser. Network operator Deutsche Telekom has installed a 5G ‘campus’ network across the rest of the site, which stretches to a “million square metres” and is billed as Europe’s biggest “5G zone”. The Siemens setup is available with the floor space for companies to rent, during or between trade shows.
Rotmensen said it will afford a chance to run the rule over 5G, as well as Siemens’ early prototype network. He commented: “They can get access to a 5G network using this prototype of the industrial 5G system we are developing – and get a feel of what 5G can do for, as it is today. There may be more proofs like this over the rest of the year.”
Siemens is fitting-out its own factories with 5G networks in the 3.7-3.8 GHz ‘vertical’ spectrum band in Germany. Private spectrum licences are available for the price of phone contracts, it told its digital enterprise summit last summer. The company is pursuing the same in every market in which it operates, by securing private or shared spectrum as it is available.
The company is closely engaged in the 3GPP standardisation process for industrial-grade 5G. Rotmensen noted the difference between existing 5G networks, geared towards consumers with a go-faster version of LTE (enhanced mobile broadband / eMBB), and future incarnations, which promise support for ultra-reliable low-latency (URLLC), and ‘massive machine-type (mMTC) communications with forthcoming releases of the standard.
“I mean, the whole of 5G is enormous; it captures a lot of different aspects. The 5G networks out there right now are focused on consumers with cell phones using as much data as possible. That is what 5G is today, really. But all these other promises are buried inside future releases – in Release 17 and 18, and I would include a part of Release 16 in that, as well. These start to serve industrial requirements.”
He suggested Siemens’ longer-term scheduling is good, in this regard. “We will let you know, as soon as we are ready to say. But let me put it this way: I don’t really see 5G in a private network taking off on the shop floor prior to Release 16 end-devices coming available.” He pointed to a study from ARC Advisory Group, from January, that said Release 16 end-devices will be available at the end of 2022, at the earliest.
“That is not necessarily our roadmap, but it gives a sense of the timing, here,” he said. The company’s new private 5G solution can be “run in the way [enterprises] like,” he said – “with the end-devices they like, as well. It will be an open system, of course.” How it plays with existing installations and customers’ other network preferences remains unclear.
But Rotmensen said Siemens, with long-standing and developing experience with industrial networking, has an installed base of customers, which he implied will only look seriously at private 5G after 2022. “The industrial sector is in an R&D phase with 5G, right now, and we are developing our solution – which will fit perfectly for industrial use cases, for both our customers and our own factories,” he explained.
“The question is: who will bring industrial 5G to market? And for us, companies like ours, which are focused on industry and know what industrial users need [are best placed] to create a full system from scratch. We can already learn from our own factories. With that knowledge and experience, we can create an industrial 5G solution, to give Industry 4.0 a boost.”
He added: “5G is just a building block in the whole system. With 5G alone, I can’t make anything in my factory. Which is why we never talk just about the connectivity. Because connecting the machine does not make the machine work. So it is about how everything plays together. So, yes, there is a different perspective. And I would say, as well, that what we do differently in industry is to focus on the technology only when the technology is ready.”
The company’s 5G solution will offer network slicing, and presumably splicing to run into public cellular networks outdoors. “Yes, of course; that is one of the things we will see in the future. We have access to 100MHz of spectrum, which is ideal to run multiple different applications on the network. And slicing will definitely be an important factor in private networks as well.”
The broader package is not fully fleshed-out. It remains unclear, for example, what kind of networking management will be offered to customers with the solution, beyond standard after-sales support. “That is the kind of thing we are still talking about, at the moment. You need to stay tuned on that.” But the company expects industrialists to take first-line network management into their own hands, at least.
It is building the system to be easily workable by operational technology (OT) specialists, on the shop floor of factories and industrial plants. Rotmensen said: “Customers want low latency and high reliability. They ask about those two things, and whether they can run the network themselves — if they will be able to manage 5G in the same way they manage Wi-Fi, or whether they will need to bring in expertise and be dependent on third parties.”
He went on: “That is something we are trying to overcome – by developing an industrial 5G solution which is designed for blue collar workers. So if something happens in the network, it does not require knowledge about the whole network to put it right – to exchange a device and keep the network running reliably. That is a big factor, we think, to make 5G successful in industry, and one of the things we can really help with.”
Is that, then, how Siemens will differentiate its 5G offer, as an easier-to-manage system than from rival suppliers? Is that the hope and expectation? “The hope? Yes. The expectation? It’s hard to say. But I haven’t seen anyone else doing it. 5G is so big you need to focus on what matters, and what is needed in the factory – and leave all the rest of it. It has to be a solution that you or I could set up,” responded Rotmensen.
“This is one of the keys. Because your factory is online 365/24/7; so, what happens when the network goes down? On Christmas Eve? That is why it needs to be managed locally. That is the thing that will determine whether industrial 5G is successful – that and the challenge of data privacy, to make sure mission critical parts of the network stay local.”
And what of the traditional telecoms set? As with other industrial service providers, starting to play both sides of the line with the supply of private 5G into industry, Siemens suggested network operators will remain part of the Industry 4.0 puzzle for outdoor 5G, and possibly not much else. Rotmensen said: “There is enough room in the market for everyone. But I really think, in the end, most industrial customers will want to manage the network, and control the network. But no one can tell, and as it is a big market, only time will tell what will really happen.”