Private 5G unlocks industrial site innovation
By Gary Woolley, Executive: Private Networks at Comsol
The power and capabilities of private 5G are paving the way for mines, manufacturers and other industrial sites to harness more advanced technologies across their environments. It’s proving to be a game-changer, particularly in areas where mobility is required.
In line with our prediction that 2023 would be the year of enterprise POCs, growing numbers of mines and heavy industrial businesses look to implement private 5G networks and run POCs. As they do so, it should be noted that the true value of private 5G is when it is expertly implemented and encompasses a comprehensive ecosystem with seamless integration of different network components, from hardware and software to devices and applications.
The impact of private 5G goes far beyond the connectivity layer. It’s building broader ecosystems and we are seeing more and more devices and applications being born and more use cases emerging as a result of private 5G. In mines, for example, more devices are starting to support the private 5G world. OEMs and system integrators are bringing to market solutions that address enterprise needs across multiple sectors, such as new handsets, wearables and sensors.
The reason for this is 5G’s range, reliability and performance. It’s a rock-solid platform they can run all their applications on – with the necessary quality of service and SLAs. On an open WiFi standard, there’s always the risk of RF interference, but private 5G takes out the risks associated with WiFi. With 5G, you get dedicated licensed band spectrum where you prioritise certain mission-critical applications. It’s a very controlled service so you can manage what part of the spectrum a device is using and you won’t get interference from other pieces of comms.
Private 5G delivers lower latency and jitter, which is crucial in OT environments.
In addition, private 5G coverage is massive. You can connect vehicles and autonomous drills in a wide area, but at the same time run voice and video calls over handsets; and use VR and AR goggles because the spectrum and output power of private 5G allows you to connect an entire ecosystem over further distances. In contrast, WiFi might allow a vehicle with a large antenna to connect over 2km, but a handset will only connect for up to around 150 metres. Placing WiFi access points every 100 metres is not always viable, and there can be a degradation in service as devices move between WiFi access points.
Private 5G connects over kilometres – a 5G solution radio unit can blast 15km-20km, with a huge blanket of connectivity, allowing for more devices to be connected across the mine or manufacturing facility. Private 5G delivers a seamless transition between repeater sites. These are very compelling benefits that enable a range of additional use cases.
These use cases include video connectivity across sites, AR, VR and digital twinning. You could be running Teams calls over handsets, with video feeds to a supervisor to oversee repairs onsite, for example. You could build a digital twin of a complex piece of equipment and have an expert technician in another country take staff through a tutorial on how to fix the machine. On an industrial or manufacturing site, you might increase safety and operational efficiencies by streaming high-res video from forklifts moving around the environment. It’s enabling smarter and safer mining and manufacturing.
While many manufacturing robots are already smart, most of these are static machines that depend on fibre connections. Where mobility is required, and if you need to move things around, private 5G offers the solution.
Designed for work
Private 5G for enterprises is significantly different from 5G networks being rolled out for the consumer market in urban areas, however.
There’s a lot of complexity behind an optimal private 5G deployment. It takes years of experience to deploy and get the most out of these systems. There are considerations such as rolling out the antennas that perform best underground, specialised masts for a particular terrain or finding the appropriate wind and solar power solutions for the environment.
Comsol has been building private networks for 20 years, so we understand the game. We ensure technicians are monitoring the network all the time to ensure SLAs are met – it’s the man in the van and the smart hands working onsite.
In addition, health and safety is a massive issue on mines and manufacturing sites, so there are strict health and safety conditions to be met with any implementation. Because we understand these requirements, we have a dedicated health and safety department to ensure we adhere to all policies and procedures.
It is not a simple matter to ensure that a network is planned and deployed to deliver optimal performance under any conditions. We have decades of in-house expertise across network design, implementation and assurance, spanning all key technologies, with in-depth experience in addressing the specific requirements of key sectors, locations and environmental conditions.