Home5G‘At a crossroads’ – make or break time for private 5G in Industry 4.0

‘At a crossroads’ – make or break time for private 5G in Industry 4.0

This is the introduction to a new report on Industrial 5G Innovation – From Setting Standard to Becoming Standard. To read more, download the report here, or click on the image above; a webinar on the same topic is also available, here, with speakers from ABI Research, MFA, Schneider Electric, and Vodafone.

Anyone would think the private 5G market, which roughly describes and expands the industrial 5G space, is going gangbusters. And they would be right, actually, because all the numbers say so. The number of private LTE and 5G networks will increase to 13,500 globally by 2026, according to analyst group Berg Insight; this is a 10-fold increase, roughly, from a figure today of “more than” 1,000 private LTE deployments and 300-odd private 5G deployments.

The latter are mostly in pilot and trial mode, it should be noted. But compound growth (CAGR) over the period, from 2022 through 2025, will be 57 percent per annum, it reckons, with private 5G deployments overtaking private LTE installations some time in 2024/5. Indeed, over 80 percent of chief information officers plan to deploy private 5G within the next 24 months, according to a survey of 200-odd “top execs” by business solutions provider NTT.

Ninety percent expect 5G to become the standard network for industrial types, on the grounds it provides better security, reliability, and speed. But, there is a but, as always with such measures. The NTT poll is a snapshot of large-sized enterprises in major industrial climes, and not a global picture; and the Berg Insight forecast is a fraction (a thousandth) of Nokia’s seminal market-sizing, which puts the potential market at 14.5 million sites (see right).

So what gives? Well, apart from the fact planet-wide industrial change takes time, this digital-era voyage of discovery is captained by two of the slowest movers on the network seas: with telecoms in the lookout and industry in the wheelhouse, and both parties bound by their own private schedules, linked to tech releases and system upgrades. Which means they will make passage together at length, in their own good time.

But there is another, more pressing problem, which is slowing their course: there aren’t any bloody boats, or very many, anyway. As Berg Insight notes in its 2026 forecast, the new private 5G rush hinges on the availability, also, of 5G devices, and particularly industrial-grade 5G devices offering 3GPP Release 16-level ultra-reliable low-latency (URLLC) functions. Proper industrial 5G NR modules are only just starting to become available “in samples”, it says.

Which is why Industry 4.0 has, so far, struggled to catch a sail – to hitch a ride on this generational 5G ‘storm’. This point will be argued, to an extent, but it is the first one to take from this report, which tells the story of how industrial (mostly) private 5G will go from a setting standard, detailed in Releases 15-through-18 of the 3GPP’s 5G NR (New Radio) specification-set, to an established standard for enterprise networking, to deliver digital change.

Ask another analyst, and the madly-hyped 5G opportunity with enterprises might just be unravelling altogether. “The market is at a crossroads; 2022 will be a deciding year for industrial 5G – whether it pivots from research trials to proper deployments. We talk about the telco side all the time, but it is the other side that is at the wheel – and you talk to the tier-two manufacturers in Germany, for example, and they are growing impatient.”

So says Leo Gergs, senior research analyst at ABI Research. We should consider a couple of points, here. Firstly, that Gergs is from Germany, the home of Industrie 4.0, and a microcosm of hard-nosed private 5G; he has a decent line into the local industrial set (compared with most analysts writing in English). Secondly, that “tier-two” manufacturing is the engine room in this ship, which may not deliver the landing party, but will bring the whole endeavour home.

“They aren’t leading with this stuff, but they will make it scale, and their discontent [with 5G] has grown, because they realise it is not what they were promised back in 2018/19,” says Gergs. “That is where we stand; whether to stay in trial or shift up a gear. Which is a dangerous position, because the big public research grants that have funded most of this stuff in Germany will not go on 5G anymore, but on 6G. So 5G has to learn to be self-sufficient.”

Does the fact the investment has shifted from 5G to 6G in Europe mean that 5G has been researched enough, already; that the time has come for it to come out of trial, and go to work? “Yes,” he responds. “The industrial 5G story is already told; it is entirely told. Whenever I write a new report, there is nothing that isn’t told. What we are all waiting for is how the industry is going to enact this; how it is going to back this up.” Quite; so how, then, exactly?

This is the introduction to a new report on Industrial 5G Innovation – From Setting Standard to Becoming Standard. To read more, download the report here, or click on the image above; a webinar on the same topic is also available, here, with speakers from ABI Research, MFA, Schneider Electric, and Vodafone.

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