Private 5G Networks and the Future of Industry 4.0

Private 5G Networks and the Future of Industry 4.0

Modernizing an industrial operation to support Industry 4.0 applications can be a remarkably complex challenge. This is especially true where a facility uses legacy fixed Ethernet to connect machines to a central office location. Transition may be easier where a facility has already transitioned to wireless, but evolving to next-generation capabilities can expose the limits of commercially-supplied Wi-Fi and LTE cellular networks. That’s because Industry 4.0 makes use of highly automated, intelligent, and collaborative cyber-physical systems which require highly stable, low-latency wireless connections.

As a result, a growing number of enterprises in manufacturing, energy, mining, power distribution, logistics, and other sectors are going private. They’re moving away from established network operators, and bringing their wireless networks in-house.

Wireless for Flexibility and Performance

Transitioning to a private wireless network offers flexibility to reconfigure, upgrade, and evolve the setup as needed enabling factory operations to run smoothly and cost-effectively. When designing, deploying, and running an in-house network, it is feasible to optimize for a specific set of requirements, e.g. coverage, privacy, and performance. Consistent, reliable coverage can be guaranteed, even where access to a commercial network may be limited or inconsistent. Control is maintained over proprietary information, since data doesn’t travel over public channels where it’s more vulnerable to piracy or attack. Running a private wireless network also makes it easier to use configurations or features, such as high-level data protections or specific data rates, which may not be readily available from commercial providers.

The wireless technology used in current private networks is varied. Some applications implement a relatively simple 802.11-based setup whilst others use cellular protocols e.g. 700 MHz LTE cellular, which the United States Federal Communications Commission (FCC) authorized for commercial purposes in 2008.

5G for Long-Term Growth

As 5G cellular becomes more widely available, we expect Industry 4.0 to rely on 5G for its private wireless network. Industrial automation is a focal point for 5G and is a prominent part of the phased roll-out of 5G standards.

In 2019, the Release 15 standards for 5G expanded support for the Low Power Wide Area (LPWA) technologies currently used in the industrial Internet of Things (IoT), and introduced the New Radio (NR), which is the basis for more advanced functionality. The upcoming Release 16 standards, scheduled for 2020, will go even further in their support for industrial automation, with the introduction of Ultra-Reliable Low-Latency Communications (URLLC).

With URLLC, wireless connections on the factory floor become exceptionally stable and can operate with end-to-end latency rates close to or even below one millisecond. The combination of ultra-high reliability, high availability, and ultra-low latency means URLLC will support smart factories that use artificial intelligence, augmented reality, and advanced robotics. The URLLC features of 5G give cellular the capacity to take industrial automation well into the future.

The promise of 5G for industrial automation is strong enough that several countries, including Germany and Japan, are already allocating spectrum for use with private 5G networks in these types of deployments.

5G Features to Look For

5G standards address the needs of factory automation in two ways – through the 5G NR radio and through the 5G system architecture. In the radio, features that improve stability and reduce latency include flexible numerology, spatial diversity, Coordinated Multi-Point (CoMP) operation, centimeter-accurate positioning, Quality of Service (QoS), and spectrum flexibility, including operation in the NR-unlicensed band. In the system, features enhancing factory automation include network slicing, improved security, new authentication methods, easier edge-cloud deployment, and support for Time-Sensitive Networking (TSN).

The NXP Perspective

At NXP, we’re strong supporters of private 5G networks for industrial automation. We see 5G as the future of industrial operation and are working to make that future a reality. To do this, we’re building on our expertise and leadership in industrial applications.

NXP’s portfolio builds on a long-standing presence in industrial networking and control. Our industry-leading Layerscape LS1043, LS1028, and i.MX series supports advanced connectivity while also offering the reliability and long-term availability required for industrial applications. Extending this functionality to include 5G connectivity is a logical next step.

In October 2019, NXP introduced the new Layerscape Access family of fully programmable baseband products for 5G Access Edge systems. This new 5G family builds on the performance of our existing Layerscape processors, Airfast line of RF multi-chip modules for 5G cellular base stations, and EdgeVerse portfolio of solutions. The result is antenna-to-processor functionality optimized for advanced applications like Industry 4.0. We back this solution with a highly flexible, software-based solution, supported by an ecosystem of software vendors who help deliver a complete solution.

To learn more about NXP’s approach to 5G and the use of private wireless networks in industrial applications, visit us at nxp.com/5g.

Stuart Forbes
Stuart Forbes
Stuart Forbes is a fresh-faced blogger with 36 years of broad-based experience in the semiconductor industry. He is currently a member of NXP’s Edge Processing Product Management team, with specific responsibility for introduction of the Layerscape Access product line.

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