Delays? What delays? Keysight rubbishes talk of an industrial 5G logjam
Maybe it is just the way we ask the questions, but… test and measurement company Keysight Technologies has sought, effectively, to dispel any rumour and disquiet in the ranks about delays with industrial-grade 5G devices to go with industrial-grade private 5G networks. The US-based firm responded robustly, in writing, to a volley of email questions following its announcement last month (?) of a “range of enhancements” to its 5G ‘network emulation solution’.
These are to enable chipset and device makers to quickly develop 5G designs with the latest Release 15-through-17 capabilities – “for consumer, industry and government applications”. The message about consumer devices fell on deaf ears, but the concept of pushing-through Release 16 and 17 units for industry raised interest – especially in light of 4.0 frustrations that there are no (or few) proper-industrial 5G devices to attach to shiny new 5G networks.
This is not up for dispute, we reckon; the private 5G market, as it exists, is populated with Release 15 level devices, and most of these are smartphones and tablets, only made ‘industrial’ by some ruggedised garb. Check out the recent discussion with Vodafone (and anywhere else in the Enterprise IoT Insights archives), acknowledging the chicken-and-egg scenario with industrial 5G networks and devices.
As it stands, industrial 5G is just a promise, written in the 3GPP documentation and tested in hardware in Kesight-style test labs. Which is not to say its new ‘network emulation solution’ is not important; it looks downright essential to get the Industry 4.0 market moving. The firm has spent a year with chipset makers verifying the performance of advanced Release 16 (‘Rel-16’, etc) level chipsets, it says, scheduled to land later this year.
A statement says: “Keysight has used the enhanced network emulation platform to realise several industry-first 5G achievements in collaboration with leading chipset makers. Industry milestone achievements include the first 10 Gbps downlink (DL) IP data throughput demonstration in June 2021 and the first 3.5 Gbps UL IP data throughput demonstration in January 2022.”
Cao Peng, vice president and general manager of Keysight’s wireless test group, comments: “We’re witnessing the first commercial Rel-16 deployments this spring and expect to see early Rel-17 implementations towards the end of 2022. Keysight… continues to provide a future-proof test platform for chipset makers, device manufacturers, network operators, test labs, system integrators, and OT vendors to rapidly develop and verify 5G devices and networks.”
These are all the parties tasked with turning on the industrial 5G tap; many of them, at least in the systems integration and industrial automation games, roll their eyes that ‘industrial 5G’ is ready to roll. It is not even a 2023 story, they say; 5G-geared Industry 4.0 will happen when Release 17 is locked and loaded into commercially available chips and modules, and integrated into industrial machinery. Which is a 2024 story, at earliest.
But is this a delay? Or is this just the natural cycle for cellular? Like Vodafone said, in the above-linked story, we have been here before, notably with NB-IoT – which is only just now, after being introduced in Release 13 in 2016, starting to look like the real deal. And so, these questions and these answers, should be considered in this context: a long delay or a long wait; quite frustrating but quite normal; discussed in email, and not in conversation.
Either way, Keysight’s answers are thorough, and its defence is robust. The 5G-end of the industrial IoT market is on track (“as per expectations”), with development and testing of industrial-grade 5G devices starting to motor (“progressing rapidly”). All the answers below are from Neil Payne, marketing manager for 5G network emulation solutions at Keysight Technologies.
For more on this topic, look out for the new editorial report and webinar session on industrial 5G (from setting standard to becoming standard) on April 28, featuring Phil Skipper, Head of IoT Business Development at Vodafone Business, Asimakis Kokkos, Chair of the Technical Specification Group at MFA (MUlteFire Alliance) and Head of Technology Ecosystems at Nokia, and Leo Gergs, Senior Analyst at ABI Research, among others. Sign up here for the session and report.
Is there a delay with industrial R15/16/17 devices? If so, why?
There have been no significant delays and 3GPP standards are progressing to plan. The Rel-15 standards were finalised in 2018 and Rel-15 devices/networks have been available since 2019. The Rel-16 standards were finalised in 2020 and device/network deployments are just starting to appear now. The Rel-17 standards will be finalised by 3GPP in mid-2022, with the first devices and networks appearing around the end of 2023.
What is the importance of a tool like this (referencing the 5G Network Emulation Solution)?
Network emulators like the Keysight E7515B UXM 5G Wireless Test Platform and the 5G Device Test Solutions that are based on it, enable the wireless ecosystem to test new 5G devices across all stages of the device development workflow – from early modem/chipset development, device integration, and functional/performance testing – through to formal certification and acceptance testing by mobile network operators and national/regional regulators.
They allow protocol, RF, functional and performance testing to be performed in a repeatable, lab-based environment, against the latest 3GPP standards and features ahead of their deployment on commercial mobile networks, accelerating the market availability of new chipsets and devices.
Has the delay with 5G devices impacted the industrial 5G market, particularly?
As above, there have been no significant delays to 5G and the market is progressing, as per expectations. The 5G industrial IoT market is currently attracting a lot of attention and is enabled by some of the new features introduced in Rel-16 including enhanced ultra-reliability and low latency communications (eURLLC), time-sensitive networking (TSN), and non-public networks (NPN) (private networks). Keysight is developing pioneering test solutions for this emerging market, with the E7515B UXM 5G Wireless Test Platform being a central component.
It seems like the market’s focus remains on the consumer market, and the industrial market has been required to ‘make do’ with consumer-grade R15 5G devices? Is this the case?
Definitely not. As mentioned above, some of the key features needed by the industrial market were only introduced in Rel-16. It may be true that the modem makers’ first priority was to implement the Rel-16 enhanced mobile broadband (eMBB) features used by consumer devices and smartphones, but development and testing of the eURLLC/TSN/NPN features is now progressing rapidly and devices supporting them will be available later in 2022. After the 3GPP specifications are finalised for any new release, it takes around 18 months for those features to be commercially deployed in networks and devices, so Rel-16 is running to plan.
How does the Industry 4.0 market get its hands on industrial-grade R16 and R17 devices more quickly? What needs to happen?
The realisation of the Industry 4.0 vision is dependent on a whole ecosystem of players, including:
- standards organisations responsible for developing the core technical specifications;
- national/regional regulators responsible for licensing and approvals;
- modem makers responsible for implementing features defined in the technical specifications in their chipsets;
- network infrastructure vendors responsible for providing the base stations and core network components over which they communicate, by implementing the same technical specifications;
- device and module makers responsible for taking those modems/chipsets and integrating them into their commercial devices;
- manufacturers responsible for industrial automation equipment and control systems;
- test equipment manufacturers responsible for providing the test systems and solutions that enable the development and testing of the individual components and the full end-to-end industrial automation systems.
Major technical challenges must be investigated and overcome by each of these players, at each stage of their respective workflow before the individual components can be brought together to enable the deployment of the final Industry 4.0 end-to-end solutions. Keysight’s test solutions enable many of these challenges to be investigated and overcome. These test solutions include:
- network emulation solutions that allow the modems and devices to be developed and tested for compliance with the 3GPP standards, across the protocol, RF, functional and performance domains;
- channel emulation solutions allow the real-world performance of devices and base stations to be assessed; for example, by applying the fading, reflections, doppler shifts, interference etc. found in a live network environment;
- network test solutions enable testing of the core network; for example protocol implementation and load testing;
- device emulation solutions enable testing of the network infrastructure components before commercial devices are available;
- network security solutions enable threat simulation and detection of vulnerabilities.
How does Keysight view progress in the Industry 4.0 market? It seems R16 networks are starting to go in, often in private setups, often married to ‘vertical’ spectrum, but their usage tends to be limited to mobility, collaborative worker, and critical safety apps – and not to industrial IoT solutions delivering higher-grade control and intelligence for smart production. Is this right?
The Industry 4.0 market is now developing at pace, with the major players in this ecosystem all now investing heavily in the development of end-to-end industrial IoT solutions. Included in this ecosystem are now some of the major global industrial giants who have never previously engaged with cellular technology but are now understanding the potential 5G offers to deliver the vision of Industry 4.0, and have started developing 5G-based industrial IoT robotic, monitoring and control systems.
Major mobile network operators have also created labs to enable the different ecosystem players to bring together their individual components and solutions, allowing them to be tested for interoperability and assess their performance when working together to provide end-to-end industrial IoT and factory automation solutions. It is true that this still is a nascent market, only recently enabled by the Rel-16 features that are only now starting to be delivered, so it will take several years for the vision to be fully realised.
However, at Keysight we can see via our numerous industry collaborations the progress that is being made within the ecosystem, and we are extremely excited at what we see coming and the potential of this market in the not-too-distant future.
What will R16 and R17, respectively, give to the Industry 4.0 market – which current R15 networks / devices cannot deliver?
The key features introduced in Rel-16 for the industrial IoT market are those mentioned above, which deliver the following capabilities for the IIoT market that were not possible based on the Rel-15 specifications:
- eURLLC – adds key enhancements that were missing from the R15 URLLC specifications to improve the reliability and latency of the communications link, which are key requirements of business-critical industrial control systems.
- TSN – enables communications over cellular via Ethernet protocol data units (PDUs), at a much lower layer of the protocol stack, eliminating the inherent delays involved when using higher-layer protocols such as internet protocol (IP). This enables time-critical control messages to be sent, e.g., for controlling robots.
- Non-Public Networks – allows the deployment of private 5G networks that do not rely on a commercial 5G network, which may be used to provide a dedicated network for factory automation, for example.