5 May, 2022


Jonny Williamson, UK5G website



In the choice of public or private, manufacturers strongly favour deploying a private 5G network. In the fourth of his series, Jonny Williamson explores why.

Three in four manufacturers intend to adopt private 5G networks by 2024.

So says an international study by network management company Accedian. By comparison, 92% of manufacturing facilities today use Wi-Fi for local networks.

Explaining why interest in private 5G is at an all-time high, Accedian’s Jay Stewart says that manufacturers clearly understand the impact it can have on their businesses. “Private 5G supports a wide variety of existing manufacturing applications while enabling new ones that aren’t practical with Wi-Fi, Ethernet, and other technologies,” he adds.

The research, which canvassed the connectivity ambitions of manufacturers in the UK, Germany, the US and Japan, identified five key factors influencing 5G deployment model decisions:

  • 63% – Network Security
  • 49% – Network Performance
  • 49% – Speed / Simplicity of Deployment
  • 45% – Application Performance
  • 43% – Data Sovereignty / Privacy

For Verizon, it’s easy to see why private 5G networks are emerging as the ‘connectivity technology of choice’ – “A private 5G network gives companies the ability to customise the network according to specific organisational needs and locations, securely, and on their timetable.”

A manufacturer’s ‘specific organisational needs’ demand the highest level of security and consistency of performance. Exactly what private 5G delivers.

A preference toward deploying private 5G rather than public offerings also reflects where manufacturers are in their adoption journey and the current level of national coverage.

Key terms to know

Private Network, sometimes referred to as a Local Network – A dedicated network that provides unified connectivity and optimised services within a specific area (ranging from a single building up to an entire campus), with restrictions to effectively lock out external access or devices. Access to a private network is typically provided to members.

Public Network – An open network that provides substantial coverage accessible by anyone, i.e. the general public. Those with access to a public network are typically subscribers or customers.

5G Network Slicing – The ability to create multiple independent virtual networks from a single physical network infrastructure, delivering improved flexibility and agility. This is a key differentiating feature of 5G technology.

For more info, head to UK5G’s glossary of useful technical terms

Public 5G is available, but cities are at the front of the queue.

Mobile network operators have been steadily rolling out localised public 5G networks in recent years, with South Korea, China and the US leading the charge. All four of the major operators in the UK (EE, O2, Three and Vodafone) have now launched 5G networks and have announced plans to expand their coverage.

However, these public network deployments are currently focused on serving densely populated urban areas. Typically, not somewhere manufacturers choose to establish themselves.

Forecasts vary for when we can expect a much broader national coverage. Most predictions lie somewhere between five and ten years. EE, for example, has the ambition to offer 5G “anywhere in the UK” by 2028.

5G adoption will “definitely” go mainstream within the next five years, says Rab Scott*, Professor of Industrial Digitalisation at the University of Sheffield Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (AMRC).

“The pandemic has both helped and hindered adoption,” Rab notes. “Working remotely and the need to socially distance have driven the uptake of digitalisation and helped to emphasise the importance of connectivity. On the other hand, factory closures, supplier bottlenecks and an international shortage of semiconductor chips have slowed the development of various 5G devices.”

In the meantime, those manufacturers keen to be among the early adopters are taking deployment into their own hands.

*Read my article 5G for Manufacturing: How 5G integrates with legacy IT systems to hear more from Rab Scott

A winning strategy – test, assess, scale

If you look at where manufacturers are choosing to trial 5G, the most common applications today typically fall into one of five areas:

  • Design & Planning – data-driven decision-making, digital twins, real-time mixed reality collaboration, VR and AR prototypes.
  • Production – Real-time monitoring, quality control, intelligent automation, enhanced human-machine collaboration, training and upskilling, improved worker safety.
  • Operations – A fully connected factory, worker support, autonomous guided vehicles and mobile robots.
  • Maintenance & Support – Condition-based monitoring, predictive maintenance, VR and AR-facilitated guidance.
  • Supply Chain – Automating processes, asset location tracking, connected goods, inbound and outbound confirmation, and customs process management.

The majority of these use cases occur within a manufacturer's own four walls, broadly speaking. That makes sense. With 5G still in its relative infancy, decision-makers understandably want to run and closely observe proof-of-concepts internally first before scaling proven use cases out to their wider value chain. Therefore, it makes equal sense that manufacturers are opting to deploy private 5G networks.

Incidentally, Digital Catapult and several industry partners recently put five of the most widely accepted manufacturing use cases to the test: condition-based monitoring, predictive maintenance, wireless robotics, asset and tool tracking, and AR-enabled training.

The analysis showed a payback time of between 12 and 24 months and a five to 10-times return on investment over five years. On top of the financial gains, the tests also helped to provide the knowledge and experience to scale projects, both internally and externally. They also helped lay the foundations to unlock new use cases and, in some cases, lucrative new business models such as selling specialist services (servitization).

So, manufacturers are being driven to deploy private 5G networks because of currently patchy public coverage, an immediate focus on internal use cases, and their need for high levels of security, reliability and control. However, a fully private network isn’t the only option.

A growing list of deployment models

The choice of private or public isn’t as binary as it first appears, or may have appeared historically. 5G introduces a range of possibilities between a public network and a standalone fully-private network, including:

  • Public network
  • Public network with a service-level agreement (SLA)
  • Public network with network slicing
  • Public network with local infrastructure
  • Private network (operator spectrum)
  • Private network (unlicensed or private spectrum)

Each deployment scenario has its own set of characteristics, as outlined by Jo Gilbert on a recent webinar* hosted by KTN and delivered in partnership with UK5G and Digital Catapult.

*Watch it on-demand here

*The Edge Computing element is compatible with every one of these deployment scenarios*The Edge Computing element is compatible with every one of these deployment scenarios

“Network Slicing is where we begin to create a virtualised private mobile network,” explained Jo, who is Technical Director and Manufacturing Lead at GSMA, which represents the interests of mobile network operators and the broader mobile ecosystem.

“Public network with local infrastructure can be thought of as a managed service solution where the operator or a third-party partner can install and manage dedicated network equipment with an SLA, for example,” she continued.

Public, Private, Hybrid model

Mobile network operators are increasingly offering a range of solutions that, in some cases, includes a hybrid solution. These deliver “a private mobile network with seamless interoperability into the national or regional public networks,” Jo commented.

Such hybrid models, which bridge both private and public networks, could offer a viable means for manufacturers to embrace 5G, especially small businesses that may not have the resources to manage deployments themselves.

The ability to move effortlessly across private and public domains makes hybrid models an attractive proposition for manufacturers keen to expand their use of 5G beyond the factory (or warehouse) gates and out into their wider value chains.

But would doing so mean having to wait for a universal public 5G coverage across land, sea and air?  Not necessarily thanks to a pioneering project on a different kind of network.

Laying the tracks to extend 5G beyond the factory gates

Manufacturers don’t operate in isolation. They exist in diverse ecosystems of suppliers, partners, distributors, customers and other stakeholders which often span the globe. How do businesses track, monitor and remotely control assets that are travelling through or are operating in locations where existing mobile networks don’t reach? 

The answer is satellite technology, according to IT services provider CGI UK. Satellites can help bridge the gaps where terrestrial connectivity has yet to go or just can’t go, or deliver a resilient second strand of connectivity.

“Satellites are an ideal way to serve areas with a population density too low to justify a cellular service because the constellation coverage is available immediately without the need to deploy terrestrial infrastructure,” says CGI UK.

The biggest challenge in realising this vision of seamless connectivity, where the switch between terrestrial and non-terrestrial networks goes unnoticed, is the complex calculations involved with ensuring the moving antenna is pointed at the right satellite at the right time.

To help develop the technology involved, CGI UK is working with the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), the UK Space Agency (UKSA) and the European Space Agency (ESA), with support from National Rail and other train operators, to create a hybrid 5G network for use on trains.

The aim is to enable trains to flag issues to central managers immediately – from life-critical information, like derailments to more mundane matters, like notifications of track conditions and their impact on the train’s maintenance requirements. As an additional bonus, passengers won’t experience coverage black spots.

If successful, the knowledge transfer between this project and numerous industrial applications is clear. One more solution in a manufacturer’s rapidly growing connectivity toolbox.

The key learnings from this project, once available, will be shared on UK5G’s Transport & Logistics resource hub

This article was written for the UK5G website.

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