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5 ways business is getting an industrial 5G makeover

Estimated reading time: 5 minutes

The last 20 years saw digital technology transform many sectors – from music to newspapers. But the revolution passed by more traditional industries that deal in ‘things’ rather than bytes.

Now, industrial 5G technology is changing that.

In 5G, mobile networks have a channel that delivers unprecedented levels of reach, speed and capacity. As such, it can connect billions of sensors, machines and other 'things' in the remotest locations. 

Existing network technology – 4G, wifi etc – cannot match 5G’s reach and reliability.

But this is not just a future possibility. In fact, industrial 5G is already making an impact. 

For an illustrated overview of 5G tech, visit our web dossier: what is 5G?


Physical to digital and back again. Industrial 5G is driving Industry 4.0

5G is now fuelling change across a variety of sectors: energy, retail, shipping, logistics and more. 

It is powering the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Industry 4.0 (as it is commonly known) harnesses the Internet of Things (IoT) to create manufacturing systems in which machines and systems are permanently interconnected. 

What Industry 4.0 promises, according to Deloitte, is the ability to leap from digital back to physical and act upon the data that has been analyzed. Industrial 5G makes this possible with reliable, high capacity and low latency connectivity

Just as important, thanks to a property of 5G called network slicing, enterprises can run their own private mobile networks. They can make their connectivity faster and more secure. This process is underway. In 2020, Nokia announced it was creating private networks for 130 large industrial customers.

The mobile industry trade body GSMA believes network slicing will play a critical role in industrial innovation. It estimates up to 40 percent of corporates could be served via private mobile networks by 2025. GSMA says the benefits of industrial 5G private networks include:

•    Minimising production line downtime
•    More flexibility (thanks to the wireless nature of 5G)
•    Monitoring the entire supply chain (and in primary production industries)
•    Guaranteeing bandwidth to support data-hungry use cases such as hi-res machine imaging, virtual reality etc
•    Affordability. The MNO is still responsible for network operation and management.
•    Better cyber protection. 5G has in-built security features

Clearly, industrial 5G holds immense promise. But it is not just for the future. Many pioneers are working with it now.

So let's explore the experiments taking place across some of the world most traditional industries…


#1.  5G in the food chain – growing ‘vertical’ vegetables in a warehouse

If estimates are correct, the global population will be nine billon by 2050. 
How can we feed everyone? 

And how can we grow food locally to avoid costly shipping and geo-political conflict? 

Swiss start-up Growcer thinks it has the answer: vertical farming

At a warehouse in Basel, Growcer is cultivating fresh vegetables in climatic conditions that are adapted perfectly to suit specific plants. By growing vegetables upwards with no need for natural light, Growcer says it can turn any 400 square metre site into 1500 square metres of cultivatable space. More importantly, it can make empty industrial buildings productive again.

Industrial 5G is making this possible. 

Obviously, vertical farming relies on climatic sensors that generate huge amounts of data – which has to be processed on the cloud. 

5G has the capacity to manage these connections. 

Just as important, it gives Growcer the ability to centralise the processing, and thereby roll out new sites quickly. 

 “We can replicate the Basel farm anywhere else. 5G lets us slash the cost of building another farm because we process and control everything centrally via 5G without having to install all the processing power on site at each individual farm.” Marcel Florian, the founder of Growcer

#2.  5G in horticulture – drones that can tell crops from weeds

When a company that makes tractors buys an artificial intelligence start-up, you know that farming is entering a new era. 

In 2017, it happened: agricultural equipment specialist John Deere bought AI firm Blue River


Because Blue River had developed a technology called “see and spray”. It uses cameras combined with AI to identify crops and determine in real time if they need treating.

John Deere calls this precision agriculture, and says it can cut chemical usage by 90 per cent.

Of course, to make precision agriculture really deliver, the equipment has to be connected (even in the remotest areas) and has to reliably send huge quantities of data to the cloud. John Deere says, on a typical day of spring planting, it processes 5 to 15 million sensor measurements a second.

Needless to say, John Deere recognises the power of industrial 5G to accelerate its drive towards precision agriculture. So much so it bid for and won 5G licenses in five counties in Iowa and Illinois. 

It now plans to build and run its own private 5G networks in order to accelerate its move to smarter farming.

#3.  5G in maritime – introducing the digital cargo ship

In all the talk about autonomous vehicles, shipping rarely gets a mention. This is strange given that cargo ships transport around 90 per cent of world trade. 

What's more, unmanned vessels promise many important benefits. They can spend more time at sea than human-controlled  ships. They are less prone to human error. And they are self-evidently safer. It's estimated that 2,000 crew die at sea every year.

The barriers are obvious: how to connect a ship in the middle of the ocean? How to process the data needed to help the vessel chart an optimal course to its destination? 

Clearly, the arrival of industrial 5G gives the maritime industry the means to overcome these hurdles. 

In 2019, Samsung and SK Telecom completed a trial to remotely pilot a ship 250 km from shore. The ship was fitted with 5G-based LiDAR (a 3D scanning tech), a cloud-based IoT platform and real-time video monitoring.   

It's not the only 5G-related project. The Norwegian Research Council is currently working on the 5G Massive MIMO Communications in Maritime Propagation Environments (MAMIME) program. 

The aim is to explore how 5G can accelerate the digitization of shipping

The industry will be looking carefully at the development of satellite-based 5G networks

Companies such as Thales are preparing to launch a non-terrestrial network based on 3GPP 5G standards. Spaceborne satellites have the potential to extend 5G coverage to the remotest regions.


#4.  5G in renewable energy –  the right power at the right time

Is 5G good for the environment? Insiders think so. Nokia has said that 5G is 90 percent more energy-efficient than legacy networks

But it's not just that 5G as a network consumes less energy than its predecessors. Industrial 5G is also helping to make power generation itself more efficient too. Indeed, a 2020 report by STL Partners said 5G can cut 1.7 billion tonnes of CO2 emissions by 2030

How will it do this?

One way is by enabling power companies to change the way they match demand with supply. 

Today, most power grids are organised 'vertically' with electricity producers at the top and users at the bottom. But, with the advent of renewable energy, this is changing. Consumers are switching to solar, and are generating energy they can sell back to the grid

So future grids will need to match consumption with production on both sides. 

What makes this even more challenging is the unpredictability of renewables and the difficulty of storing excess power.

Producers can solve the puzzle by applying AI-powered predictive analysis to their grid data. They can use this analysis to mitigate imbalances in the grid, and achieve the best balance between distributed energy sources. 

Connectivity with ultra-low latency – and the ability to reach remote locations – will be needed to make this work. 

Clearly industrial 5G is well-suited to the task. 

The energy industry and mobile networks are working on this. Last year, GSMA Europe organised its first Renewable Energy for 5G Europe Conference as a forum to share ideas.

#5.  5G in logistics –  track and trace with no ‘dead zones’

Where's my package now? 

This is such an important question for users of logistics services. Knowing the answer reduces risks and costs, and makes it easier to meet regulatory guidelines. 

But most supply chain companies still struggle.

According to a 2020 study by Ernst and Young, just six per cent of them were 'very confident' their systems could deliver end-to-end supply chain visibility.

They believe industrial 5G can change this. 

In a 2020 report, DHL outlined the opportunity in a report ‘Next-Generation Wireless in Logistics’. It stated that logistics firms already use IoT sensors to track item location (DHL has SmartSensor for example). 

But it noted that, with 5G, they can eliminate the remote 'dead zones' in their coverage. 

They can also track items in dense city locations because 5G can handle more 1000 devices than 4G for every meter of coverage.

Industrial 5G might also be the trigger for one of the more remarkable innovations in ‘last mile’ logistics: drone delivery. 

UPS is currently working with Verizon on a project to deliver retail products by drone to locations in Florida. UPS had run similar tests before using LTE, but the company believes 5G Ultra Wideband offers the coverage and low-latency to make drone delivery viable at scale. 

“To manage multiple drones, flying simultaneously, dispatched from a centralized location and operating in a secure environment at scale, we’ll need the power of 5G,” said Carol B. Tomé, CEO of UPS

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