Mobile networks, and particularly those delivering 4G and 5G services, provide connectivity options applicable across the broad range of Industry 4.0 use cases, making these the superior choice for manufacturing and supply chain companies. Here we highlight some of the features that are key to deployments both for the Operational Technology (OT) network connecting production machinery as well as the Information Technology (IT) network enabling related business applications.
Mobile technologies are unsurpassed at providing high-quality, wide-area coverage with an outdoor range extending to tens of kilometres. In a factory floor or warehouse deployment there is also the ability to deploy ultra-compact cell site equipment which delivers the same high-quality coverage to every required point of every building to support use cases across the OT and IT domains. Importantly mobile networks enable seamless interworking between small-cells as used in-building and large cells used outdoors. [Click here to read more about Spectrum]
Mobile devices, particularly 4G and 5G, benefit from advances in signal protocols that deliver the highest levels of signal sensitivity and noise immunity. Also, mobile network equipment is licensed for operation at much higher transmit power levels than, for example, Wi-Fi equipment. Together these ensure coverage can be achieved far more reliably and efficiently with less physical infrastructure than would be required with other technologies.
Within indoor applications, the short distance between mobile enabled devices and on-site network equipment with highly sensitive antenna equipment means that devices transmit at relatively low power outputs, leading to low power consumption. Mobile solutions also employ energy efficient signal protocols, such as transmitting over extremely small burst intervals in 4G and 5G, which means circuitry can be powered down for the majority of the time. Consequently, the battery life of mobile enabled devices can extend to much longer periods than other active devices including Wi-Fi and Bluetooth.
Mobile networks also employ a number of power-saving optimisations that make it possible to run battery powered mobile devices for extremely long time periods. For example, Power Saving Mode (PSM), introduced with 4G mobile IoT networks, allows devices to switch into an extremely low power sleep mode for an extended period of time (the maximum period is 413 days. Read this document for details), even whilst maintaining an active data connection that can be re-enabled quickly and with minimal power consumption overhead. This means that battery powered mobile IoT devices in applications such as logistics and asset tracking can realistically operate for months or years.
For many industrial control applications latency is a critical consideration. Not only must a control action be delivered, it must be delivered within a known and predictable interval and unaffected by other devices in the vicinity. 4G mobile networks offer a significant advantage over other wireless technologies in terms of lower and more predictable latency, again due to the more efficient radio signalling protocols used, and 5G further enhances this with the introduction of the ‘Ultra-Reliable, Low-Latency Communications’ capability
Another important factor regarding latency is the effect of device mobility. As mobile networks are fundamentally designed for reliable mobile operation this means there is a seamless service as devices move around a factory or warehouse facility. This means applications such as Automated Guided Vehicles / Autonomous Mobile Robots can work much more reliably and safely when connected using mobile networks than would be the case with other wireless communications networks.
In industrial and warehousing applications there is a diverse range of applications with vastly differing bandwidth requirements. A simple environmental temperature sensor may transmit a few bytes of data every few minutes, whereas a robot employing machine vision will potentially transmit megabytes of data each second. A wireless network must reasonably support such a diverse range of bandwidth needs, along with fair access to the available uplink and downlink bandwidth.
Mobile networks have a major advantage compared with other wireless technologies in the separation of uplink and downlink radio spectrum which means there is no need for devices to wait for downlink transmissions to end before uplink transmissions can start. Coupled with protocols better designed for high scale multi-user/ device access, and optimised protocols including NB-IoT and LTE-M on 4G networks as well as the range of services that can co-exist on 5G networks these together mean that mobile networks offer the best way to deliver flexible bandwidth efficiently across a large number of diverse industrial applications.
A key factor in reliably deploying a scalable wireless communications network is that of the radio spectrum that it uses. Mobile networks are usually deployed within licensed spectrum bands, this offers a large degree of protection of transmissions against other users or devices which might deliberately or inadvertently generate interference leading to lower reliability or achievable bandwidth. In contrast, most other wireless communications solutions operate in unlicensed or shared frequency bands and offer the industrial enterprise little protection to the operation of what is increasingly a critical communications infrastructure.
Industrial enterprises are therefore turning to mobile operators as partners to deliver campus or private networks which leverage the mobile operator licensed spectrum.
As 5G services are introduced the range of spectrum options expands
- Lower frequency bands, e.g. under 1 GHz, support wider area coverage e.g. ‘umbrella’ coverage across outdoor areas on an industrial or warehousing site
- Mid frequency bands, e.g. in the 3 Ghz to 6 GHz range, support ‘universal’ indoor or between buildings coverage across the widest range of industrial applications
- Newer ‘millimetre wave’ technologies e.g. 26 GHz, 28 GHz and 40 GHz or above, deliver extremely high bandwidth into highly localised areas to support advanced applications such as Automated Guided Vehicles, Autonomous Mobile Robots and machine vision applications