5G for Industry 4.0 Operational Technology Networks
Wi-Fi is sometimes considered as a deployment option for industrial use cases because of perceived ease, cost and wide ranges of device and network products. However, often the decision to use Wi-Fi is made without a complete assessment of the particular demands of Industry 4.0 use cases, or, is based on limited trials that cannot develop to scale for the operational technology network. Recent Wi-Fi technologies including Wi-Fi 5 and Wi-Fi 6 promise the delivery of significant bandwidth gains over earlier generations of Wi-Fi networks. The headline throughput rates are, however, rarely achieved or achievable in Industry 4.0 deployments because of the complex physical environment and user and application demands. And, a Wi-Fi network that is suitable for providing email connectivity will not have the appropriate characteristics to support industrial control processes that are reliant on consistent low latency and high reliability connectivity.
It is also expected that a wide range of solutions for Industry 4.0 mobile network deployments will be available for 5G based on a diversification of the equipment supply industry enabled by ‘open networking’ and open source initiatives. The O-RAN alliance particularly is actively enabling a wider supplier ecosystem with defined architectures and standards to ensure interoperability between different suppliers and variants of network equipment subsystems. These initiatives will also deliver greater levels of plug-and-play interoperability within the network and between networks and devices.
This paper explores the technical and operational differences between Wi-Fi and 4G/5G mobile networks and then reviews a broad range of manufacturing and supply chain related use cases for the application of these connectivity options. It is hoped that manufacturing and supply chain companies reviewing technology options for Industry 4.0 will see that 5G networks, whether supplied by mobile network operators or standalone, provides the best choice for the Industry 4.0 operational technology network with support over a wide range of use cases. In time it is likely that manufacturing and supply chain companies will consolidate wireless networks and due to the advantages offered by 4G and 5G mobile networks it is expected that these will become the exclusive wireless technology in many manufacturing and supply chain enterprises.