Home5GIndustry loves Industry 4.0; it’s just not very good at showing it – says Verizon

Industry loves Industry 4.0; it’s just not very good at showing it – says Verizon

MWC, Barcelona: The industrial sector loves the idea of digital change, says Verizon, and private 5G as a platform for it, but it’s just not very good at showing it. Speaking at a packed industrial 5G (Industry City / Manufacturing Summit) conference stream at MWC in Barcelona today (February 28), the US-based operator said other enterprise ‘verticals’ – mostly carpeted enterprises, in disciplines like finance and hospitality – have seized the opportunity already, in a way that manufacturing and energy companies have not yet.

Elise Neel, senior vice president of new business incubation at Verizon, said: “There is a massive opportunity in industry 4.0. Digital transformation is no longer just a thing that we do, or a buzzword, or something to talk about in the boardroom. It now has executive buy-in. We have opportunities to create true transformation at scale [and certain] industries have materially benefited from digitization already – media and advertising banking and finance, hospitality, and transportation. But Industry 4.0 – manufacturing, construction, oil, gas, utilities, logistics and supply chain – has yet to really participate in any really meaningful [way].”

The evidence for this, it seems, comes from CGS Advisors, a “boutique” digital change consultancy based in Detroit, which polled 100-odd c-suite execs in “global Industry 4.0 verticals” in October last year about their appetite and experience with Industry 4.0. The response was “overwhelmingly” that opportunity knocks for industry, said Neel, in front of a chart listing productivity (93 percent), quality (86 percent), and labour costs (85 percent) as key motivations to grasp the nettle of digital change. But fewer than one in 10 are doing very much to scratch their strange new itch.

“The industry is ready for change. But… only nine percent [of respondents / enterprises] have taken that information and… applied the technologies of today into their operational practices. So there’s a gap. Fifty five percent are doing ad hoc implementations or one-off proofs. And over a third aren’t doing anything at all, or are still working to define use cases. So herein lies the problem: everyone understands the opportunity, but [relatively few are] implementing [a solution],” said Neel.

Which was, invariably, a way into a presentation about how Verizon can help these laggards out. Neel described an almost-sepia picture of “beautiful old industries”, where data is generally siloed and machines are generally old and expensive to replace – which were built organically in bricks and mortar and steel, soundtracked by the rattle and hum of production-line machinery, and never really intended to be easily replicated (to ‘scale’). 

“As you think about forward compatibility… that reliability of the network [and] scalability of the network to ingest dat – in order to make sense of it… in real time to run predictive maintenance – is a problem statement. Maybe they’re connecting one component or two components, but actually bringing it together and bringing it to life to create those predictive elements – we’re at an impasse,” said Neel.

But help is at hand, of course – from Verizon, in particular, says Verizon, and from the tech sector, in general, says the whole of MWC – if only industry would just act on its impulse, and take a leap into a sea of change. There is a “three-ingredient mix”, said Neel: deterministic networking, edge computing, and intelligent software. “When Verizon thinks about our connectivity solutions, we bring a network as-a-service model.”

She continued: “We are looking for our customers to say, ‘These are the outcomes that I want; these are the SLAs I need’. We partner with each customer to [determine] the right mix of each of these connectivity solutions… And the 5G world, tand particularly the private 5G world, creates a gateway to private mobile edge compute, [and a] low-latency [industrial environment].”

The message about partnership was an important one, and it was reflected at MWC on day one – as much of the floor space was given over to enterprise-flavours of 5G, and enterprises (at last) were the main talking point at the show for the first time, and mobile operators in conversation acknowledged Industry 4.0-building is a team sport, and that Industry 4.0 management is anyone’s game. 

But the sheer possibility of private 5G, rather than the present reality of it, was the theme of the talk, the day, the event. Neel commented: “We’re really looking at the opportunity presented to us in private networks. Deloitte recently said hundreds of thousands of firms will be deploying private 5G and private networking in the next decade. And I think they’re right… Because when we think about security, we think about dedicated networks, [and] when we think about… throughput and [density], and [the need to customise] on behalf of every customer, then private 5G allows us to do that.”

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